Columbus police to allow tattoos and beards to improve recruitment

COLUMBUS, Ind. – The Columbus Police Department is now the latest department to loosen their dress code, with the hope of reversing their declining number of applicants.

Police say applicants ask about their tattoo policy all the time. They hope that by allowing them and adding other policy changes, more people will be encouraged to apply.

"Retaining officers and trying to hire police officers is a real challenge,” said Lt. Matt Harris with the Department.

Lt. Harris says departments all over the country have started facing this same issue.

“Years ago, we would have hundreds of applicants show up for a testing process that we would test once a year," Harris said. "We’ve seen that fall to 40 or 50 applicants, and testing multiple times a year.”

The department will now allow beards and visible tattoos, with the exception of tattoos on the face, neck or hands.

"It's a way of showing feeling, emotion, where you come from, where you’re going, aspirations, remembering people. It could mean anything to anyone,” said Cpl. Micheal Davidson with the Cumberland Police Department.

Cumberland just started allowing visible tattoos this year, meaning the many tattoos Davidson has no longer need to be covered up.

“Our way of dealing with people and handling situations when they call for police has no bearing on if i have tattoos on me,” Davidson said.

Knowing the previous policy, Davidson got his tattoos in places not visible while wearing a uniform. However he said he's excited to now add more ink to his arms. He has tattoos honoring his family, and also tattoos honoring his profession.

“These are all law enforcement inspired," Davidson said as he showed off the tattoos on his leg. Along with artwork, the word "sacrifice" pans down his leg in bold.

"Just remembering that you have to sacrifice a lot," Davidson said. "Which may be your life at some point.”

Since the policy change, Davidson says the department has already seen an increase in applications.

"It's definitely boosted our numbers as far as people filling those packets out and wanting to become a police officer here,” Davidson said.

In Columbus, the department hopes to see the same results. They also expanded their take home car policy and approved a pay increase.

"We have officers that come from all walks of life, and I believe that over time opinions have changed about visible tattoos,” Harris said.

Both departments also said they hope this policy will encourage more military veterans to apply.

"Around 25 percent of our officers are military veterans," Harris said. "And many of them have tattoos.”

"(Tattoos are) to remember where they've been and their brotherhood," Davidson said. "So (with a tattoo policy), we’ve limited them getting jobs when they come back to the States from their deployment."

The Columbus Police Department expects to have four spots to fill by January, and hope the new policy will make the process easier.

"It comes down to the fewer number of people who want to be police officers," Harris said. "Departments across the state are competing for those quality applicants and of course we want to hire the best of the best here in Columbus.”