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Tattooed officers do not affect public confidence

Police Federation of England and Wales

4 min read Partner content

Overwhelming majority of people are not bothered by the body art according to Federation survey.

An overwhelming majority of the public say their confidence in a police officer to do their duty would not be affected if they had a visible tattoo.

Eighty-one per cent of respondents insisted that a visible tattoo would make no difference to their confidence in the officer.

Further to that, 60 per cent of those surveyed by Ipsos Mori on behalf of the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) say they believe people with visible tattoos should be allowed to join the police force, calling into question those forces who have blanket bans on accepting recruits and transferees who have tattoos which cannot be covered by uniform.

Vicki Martin, who has been leading on the work on behalf of the PFEW, welcomed the results. She said: “We should listen to what the public are telling us and respond accordingly. It is far more commonplace for people to have tattoos than it ever was and the comments in the survey reflect the fact that it doesn’t undermine public confidence in the service if officers have ink.

“What we need to see now is a sensible approach to officers in the service and to potential candidates who want to join the service, otherwise we are missing out on a huge talent pool. Policies need to be modern and flexible to ensure the public get the best people delivering their policing, being representative of the communities we serve.”

The research – which was two-fold and asked views of officers as well as the public - was undertaken earlier in the year because of the inconsistent way national guidance was being interpreted across the country among forces. The current guidance states that officers “should not have tattoos which could cause offence. Tattoos are not acceptable if they are particularly prominent, garish, offensive or undermine the dignity and authority of your role.”

However, the guidance is open to interpretation and has produced a situation where what is acceptable in one force may not be in another, and potential good candidates were being excluded, particularly as one in three young people now have tattoos.

Mrs Martin continued: “We’re not saying we advocate offensive tattoos, or a full face tattoo, but many people have small tattoos on visible parts of their bodies, such as the neck or hands and we wanted to explore what the issues were and have some evidence to help shape our thinking and the next steps. We just don’t think that blanket bans are workable and wanted to stimulate debate around this issue, which it has. The response has been really informative and will help inform the next stage of the work.”

The results also found:

  • Nearly 60% of the public who responded said they would feel comfortable in dealing with an officer who has a visible tattoo – slightly higher than they would with doctors or teachers (both 56%)

  • 60% felt that people with visible tattoos should be allowed to join the police force

  • More than half (55%) of officers felt comfortable or very comfortable working with colleagues with visible tattoos

  • 48% of officers surveyed say they have a tattoo, with 17% having a visible tattoo.

  • Many officers also reported that tattoos helped them to relate to the public, diffusing situations and that officers should be judged on their work, rather than tattoos.


The Police Officers’ Tattoos Survey was conducted by the Police Federation of England and Wales and was open from the 4 to 29 August 2016. There were 4,456 responses, from all 43 forces, from constables, sergeants, inspectors and chief inspectors.

The second part of the work was a public survey of more than 900 people by Ipsos MORI and was undertaken between 9 and 28 September 2016.




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