Tattoos and Law Enforcement

By Eloy Santa Cruz

A story from Global News, the news and current affairs division of Global Television Network in Canada, reported on a Philadelphia officer who was criticized for neo-Nazi related tattoos.  They were photographed by a local protester, who posted them on social media.  The individual who took the photos, Evan Matthews, stated that “officer Ian Hans Lichtermann of Northeast Philadelphia’s second precinct (unconfirmed by Philadelphia police department) [has] the official insignia of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party [on his] left forearm.”

Matthews further explained the neo-Nazi related tattoos on the officer’s other forearm, and how these types of tattoos can be very offensive to a large group of individuals.  The officer in question and the Philadelphia Police Department have not commented on the matter, and police policies on body art have become more lenient over the years.  For example, the Laredo Police Department does have a policy about tattoos, but it does not prohibit them.


Multiple calls to the Laredo Police Department ended in transfers and lack of answers, but two Laredo police officers, who wish to remain anonymous, stated that as long as the tattoos in question “aren’t offensive or gang related,” then they may remain visible; the officers further acknowledged that the meaning of offensive tattoos seems to be common throughout Laredo’s dominantly Hispanic culture, but the word “offensive” within itself may have different meanings for different individuals.


A number of Laredoans also report that some Border Patrol agents and even a few CBP officers working at International Bridge II are seen with visible tattoos, which leaves a possibility of offensiveness and controversy.  Although Laredoans reported on law enforcement officials with tattoos, they did not seem to object to them.  One Laredoan who wished to remain anonymous stated, “Our work-force and jobs have to adapt to society being more opened-minded towards these kinds of things.”


This adaption process can also be seen on campus with the Texas A&M International University’s police department.  A visit to their office inquiring about body art policies resulted in the captain (presumably Thomas S. Smith Jr) relaying to the worker at the front desk that there currently is no policy on body art.  This may have been the case on these vague policies for years, but now even more officers are being seen with more than one or two tattoos.  This adaption of rules to the cultural norms of an ever-evolving society is beneficial to some.


However, for Evan Matthews and those offended by the officer’s tattoos, the controversy centers around the type of body art and its representation.  While incidents of offensive tattoos on law enforcement officials may seldom occur in a largely Hispanic culture, in cities such as Philadelphia, where there is a greater mix of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, a clash of differing values and backgrounds may result in offense; In these cities, law enforcement officials must decide whether they should review their body-art policies or leave them as they are.


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