Des Moines Police Ban New Tattoos

Some of Des Moines' finest have to go more undercover after the department adopted a policy restricting body art.

The policy now says any tattoos, branding and intentional scarring on the face, head, neck, hands, exposed arms and legs are prohibited. Employees who already have tattoos are exempt — but they must provide photographs of their existing tattoos.

Des Moines' police union says the policy is unreasonable and has filed a grievance.

Stewart Barnes, president of the union, said the policy could narrow the potential pool of eligible officers.

"If you know that for the rest of your career you are going to have to wear a long-sleeved shirt or have your tattoos removed, you might think twice about applying for the job," he said.

Des Moines Police Chief Judy Bradshaw said tattoos distract from a professional image. She added that the department doesn't allow beards, either.

Chris Morgan, a West Des Moines police officer and former U.S. Marine, knows first-hand what it feels like to have to wear a long-sleeved shirt when it's 90 degrees outside to cover the tattoos on his forearms.

"I get so hot out there when I'm directing traffic," Morgan said. "I've sweated through my shirt and my vest."

In November, the Sioux City police department adopted a policy that says officers cannot get new tattoos on exposed body areas. New job candidates are allowed to have tattoos on exposed skin, but they can't get new ones after they're hired.

"We don't allow beards, either," Sioux City Lt. Marti Reilly said. "But we can ask them to shave those off. It's different with a tattoo."

In Ames, the policy says that officers and other employees hired after May 1, 2004, cannot have tattoos visible while in uniform, but those hired before the date are exempt, said Cmdr. Jim Robinson.

Barnes, the Des Moines police union president, said his tattoos sometimes help with his job by providing a common ground with young people.

"They come up to me and talk to me about tattoos," the 48 year old said.