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Thursday, Oct 19, 2017
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Tattoos can cuff police career

TAMPA - Tattoos are almost as common as mustaches and earrings these days, but his body art got in the way when James Lyle, a 26-year-old U.S. Army veteran, applied to be a traffic officer at Tampa International Airport. Lyle was rejected for an interview with the airport police department. He had wanted to be a traffic specialist patrolling the curbside drop-off area where passengers load and unload. The reason for the rejection: the tattoos on his forearms. One arm says "ARMY," the other says "SOLDIER." Lyle appeared before the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority on Thursday morning, lobbying to have the policy changed.
His plea may have reached sympathetic ears, though most law enforcement agencies in the area have regulations about visible tattoos. Board member Victor Crist said tattoos have become socially acceptable. Fellow board member Joe Diaco, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers physician, appeared to agree, saying, "I'm glad you brought this to our attention. This will be rectified." Airport chief executive Joe Lopano was unaware of aviation authority regulations involving tattoos but promised to check on it by next month's meeting. The appearance standards policy of the airport police says: "All (officers) are prohibited from having visible tattoos or brands anywhere on the body while wearing their required uniform. Excessive tattoos/brands will not be exposed or visible through clothing while on duty." That includes tattoos on the neck, according to the policy. The ban on visible tattoos is standard policy at many law enforcement agencies, said Larry McKinnon, spokesman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, which implemented a tattoo policy a few years ago. "We do not allow visible tattoos," he said. "If (deputies) have tattoos on their arms, they are bound to wear long-sleeve shirts for the rest of their career." Deputies who had tattoos when the policy was adopted are grandfathered in, but most cover them up anyway, he said. "It's just not a professional image we want to put out there," McKinnon said. Officers with the Tampa Police Department work under the same standards under a policy that is 10 years old, said spokeswoman Irene Thomas. "They can't have any visible tattoos when in proper uniform," she said. Tattoos on legs or shoulders are OK, but one that extends below a short sleeve is not. "If you have one on the lower part of your arm," she said, "you can't work here." New hires with visible tattoos must get them removed, she said. "They have to have that process started prior to applying," she said. Officers with the St. Petersburg Police Department have a little more leeway. "They're pretty common now," said police spokesman Mike Puetz, speaking of body ink, "so, we'd be cutting down on our recruiting base if we said no to those." As long as tattoos on arms are not offensive or distasteful, visible body art is acceptable, he said.

kmorelli@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7760
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