Tattooed cops a quandary for OPP brass

TORSTAR NEWS SERVICE
Published: October 17, 2011 5:58 a.m.

An Ontario Provincial Police constable with tattoo-covered arms was mistaken for a “gangbanger” by a superior officer at a traffic stop in northwestern Ontario in the spring of 2010.

The superior thought the man had stolen a police cruiser and OPP uniform. The tattooed officer was later directed to cover up his arms based on a newly implemented policy that targeted offensive tattoos.

The constable didn’t think he was being offensive. With the face of policing evolving, a younger cohort has embraced tattoos. The OPP is struggling to design a policy that balances freedom of expression and professional image.

The constable from the example above had a sleeve tattoo on his right arm depicting a dragon and tiger — martial arts symbols. He also had a large tattoo of the face of his grandfather as a memorial.

“He was raised by his grandfather after his parents passed away and it had sentimental meaning for him,” said Jim Christie, head of the Ontario Provincial Police Association. The officer filed a grievance and the OPP responded with an even tougher policy, forcing all 9,000 members to cover up any visible tattoos.

An arbitrator later struck down the coverup protocol, leaving the OPP without a policy and putting them in a delicate situation.