First Amendment

Judge tosses Chicago cops' suit challenging ban on displayed tattoos

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A federal judge in Chicago has dismissed a lawsuit by three Chicago police officers who claimed a department policy banning the display of tattoos violated their First Amendment rights.

U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras ruled on Tuesday, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The policy, adopted in June, requires officers on duty to cover visible tattoos with skin-tone adhesive bandages or tattoo covers. Three officers with religious tattoos challenged the policy. One of the officers also had a tattoo relating to his military service as a Marine.

Kocoras said in the opinion (PDF) that the plaintiffs’ tattoos were a form of personal expression rather than a form of speech on matters of public policy. Even if the tattoos were a comment on matters of public concern, a balancing test favors the city, the judge said.

Allowing on-duty police officers to display their tattoos, which have unique character, would undermine the Chicago Police Department’s ability to maintain public trust and respect, which would negatively affect the department ability to ensure safety and order, Kocoras wrote.

“The court finds that an on-duty police officer’s public display of any tattoo imaginable may, among other things, cause members of the public to question whether allegiance to their welfare and safety is paramount,” he wrote. As a result, the police department’s interest in ensuring that professionalism is maintained outweighs the plaintiffs’ interests in personal expression.

The suit was filed by police officers Daniel Medici, John Kukielka and Dennis Leet.

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