By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The union representing Chicago police officers is fighting a new uniform policy, set to begin on Friday, that requires officers with visible tattoos to cover them up, a union official said on Wednesday.
The directive comes just as the nation's third-largest city begins to swelter under high heat and humidity, and the Fraternal Order of Police has filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Illinois Labor Relations Board, said FOP President Dean Angelo.
Angelo said that the union thinks this that should have been part of the bargaining process, since it's a major change. The union hopes to get a temporary restraining order to stay implementation.
"We have some big, big lads out there and now they're going to be required to have long sleeves, buttoned up, in 90-degree weather in Chicago," said Angelo, who said the union has been getting calls from officers non-stop since the change was announced on Monday.
The popular police blog, "Second City Cop" joked about how the administration was apparently responding to high crime - 12 fatally shot over Memorial Day weekend - with a new uniform order.
Chicago's new policy requires tattoos to be hidden with long sleeves, long pants, skin-tone colored bandages or cover-up tape.
Chicago Police said on its website that its uniform directive, which also bans baseball-style caps, satisfies a standard from the Virginia-based Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). Chicago has signed up for CALEA accreditation.
CALEA regional program manager Mark Mosier said the agency says nothing specific about tattoos. However, Mosier said body art has become a growing issue for law enforcement agencies.
"The agencies have been seeing and hearing complaints about their employees with certain visible tattoos that may be questionable," said Mosier. "Because of the trend of a lot more people getting tattoos, agencies are looking to adjust or alter or make new policy."
Both the New York City and the Los Angeles police departments have tattoo cover-up policies. New York's policy only applies to officers hired on or after Jan. 1, 2007, said Officer George Tsourovakas.
Angelo wondered why Chicago doesn't exempt those already hired. He noted that many officers have religious or memorial tattoos, honoring a family member or service in the military.
"We don't believe it impedes in any way their professionalism or the ability to communicate with members of the community," Angelo said.
(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Sandra Maler)