Why Departments can Tell You how to Look

Have you ever wondered why Police Departments can regulate how the officers look? I was curious myself and did some research on the topic.  Today, many departments do not allow tattoos to be showing while wearing the short sleeve uniform.  Due to changing times, some departments adopted new regulations because prior military were being singled out with their sleeve tattoos.

A case that is a good starting point would be the one that was ruled by the Supreme Court.  It gave Administrators an abundance of power in how they can create and regulate policy.

The case of Kelley v. Johnson discussed the issue of hair length. The policy in the police department mentioned specific guidelines on how the hair was to be cut, or specifically how long it could be. These policies are in almost every police department.  The argument made was that the department could not create such a policy because it was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court felt differently.  They upheld the constitutionality of the policy and declared, “police administrators should be afforded great deference in enacting regulations governing the appearance and professionalism of officers under their command”. The Supreme Court said that there needed to be a rational connection between a legitimate government objective and policy. The hair policy proved to show that it identified officers to the public while also fostered “esprit de corps”, basically meaning uniformity and unity.

In short, that is why departments can tell you how to cut your hair, what tattoos can be visible, and what kind of piercings different genders can obtain.  This is just some background information.

For new officers, keep this in mind.  Too many people do not look into the issues yet have problems with why departments regulation, making accusations of the reasoning.  Police departments are one of the few jobs left that can tell their employees how to look and act when off duty just as much when on.

I guess its true that no one is really off duty, they are just not wearing the uniform.


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