Can I have a law enforcement career if I have tattoos?

I know that the individuals who have tattoos and are venturing into the law enforcement career field may feel that there is a huge barrier for them. It seems that society judges you and imposes penalties for tattoo art. So now you want to become a police officer, a sheriff deputy, a state trooper, or a federal agent but you don’t know if it’s a good idea since you have tattoos.

Well, my friend, you should be in the clear, and therefore, eligible for employment if:

  • your tattoos are not “obscene”
    • no swear words
    • no nudity
    • no gang signs or affiliations
    • no swastikas or similarly offensive art
  • Your tattoos do not cover your face, neck, or hands

Usually the motto is that if you can conceal your tattoos you can be a possible recruit. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. I have seen police officers and federal agents who have visible tattoos. I feel that gang signs or gang affiliation tattoos, as well as ideological tattoos ( swastikas, KKK, Black Panther, and etc.), may pose a definite threat to your law enforcement application.

If you are truly serious about a law enforcement career than you must be aware by now that there are tattoo removal services. It’s a painful option, but an option nonetheless.

Article written by Radek Gadek

Radek holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He is currently doing consulting work and runs this blog to provide relevant information on criminal justice degrees, colleges and related careers.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Joe Grecho

    I wasn’t sure about the tattoo thing. I can finally rest my worries, but I will ask around the local PD. Thanks a million.

  • mercy

    I have a tatto on the side of my neck with my daughters name. I also have tattoos on both my fore arms. Would i still have a chance in becoming a police officer? Thanks

    • Radek M. Gadek

      This may raise a few red flags. To be honest, it all depends on the police department you are considering working for; their rules and regulations may be different from other PDs. When I lived in Chicago, I have seen quite a few police officers with visible tattoos (including those on the neck). I recommend asking around or going to the PD website to see the hiring info, process, and any dos and don’ts.

  • Brian Dud.

    i have a tattoe on the side of my neck with my nickname n i have 2 on my forearm but they can be covered up could i still try out for the acadamy!

    • Radek M. Gadek


      It may be entirely possible that you can start the application process with the police department of your choice, but that entirely depends on the policies set by these establishments regarding tattoos. Contact the recruiter of the organization you want to work for to get more info. Good luck!

  • ANA


    • Radek M. Gadek

      Ana, I wouldn’t know. Each department or agency sets their own rules. It wouldn’t hurt asking anonymously by calling the recruiting office of the police department or law enforcement agency in question.

  • Amanda-Lyn

    I am persuing a degree in criminal justice and I was wondering if I were to get two names tattooed on the inside of my wrists would that keep me from qualifying for a position at any of the major CRJU institutions? Thank you in advance

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Most rejected applicants have tattoos that with gang affiliation or antisemitic symbolism. I know of police officers on the Chicago Police Department who have tattoos on their wrists and they had no problem of getting hired. This, however, may not be the case for everyone. It’s always wise to ask the agency in question on their body art policies.

  • Avery

    I have gang affiliated tattoos on my forearms. (nothing racist)
    My last name on my neck.
    I wanna become a police officer in either Cleveland, Ohio or Dallas, Texas.
    Whats the chances of me being accepted?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Approval can be debatable. Contact the PD in question – I’ve known of some Police Departments that expressly forbid gang affiliated tattoos yet had fairly new vice detectives with plenty of gang related ink.

  • Victoria

    I am 18 years old and I am going to school for a degree in criminal justice…i have stars tattooed on my wrist that can be covered by tape or anything else…will this be a problem?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Please read the other comments here – that may help in figuring this out. But tattoos associated with law enforcement are not overly scrutinized until you get to racial, antisemitic, and gang related tattoos. That doesn’t mean all law enforcement agencies are truly OK with it. It’s worth asking the agency you would like to work for about body art policies.

  • Mike S. Z.

    I am in the military now and am nearing the end of my second enlistment. Once I get out I plan on pursuing a career in federal law enforcement. I have quite a few tattoos, all of which are far within the military’s standards. I have been having trouble finding any information on the tattoo regulations for federal employment. Do you know where I can find these regulations? Thank you.

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Many of the military buddies of mine, who went into Federal Law Enforcement, had tattoos. They got in, with little or no scrutiny – the tattoos, as you said, fell within the current military policies. I asked a couple of them about the major disqualifiers in tattoo art – which I already mentioned in the post – and they said gang affiliated tattoos and hate group type tattoos (swastikas, KKK, Black Panthers, etc.) are automatic disqualifiers for most applicants. It’s tough to find any information on the Web about body art policies in the government sector.

  • Jordan

    What if one were to have an AK47 tattoo on one’s chest?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      I still don’t think it should be a problem, but you may be questioned on the intent of the tattoo.

  • Justin Lawrence

    I am wanting to pursue a career in criminal justice and i am also thinking about getting a medical alert tattoo for my diabetes on my wrist. Would that be a threat to my goals of becoming a government agent?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      I think you should be fine + many law enforcement agencies hire those who have controlled diabetes – in case you were wondering.

  • Justin Lawrence

    So if i have a medical alert tattood on my left wrist i should be able to get a criminal justice job?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      It’s not a YES or NO type of answer. If I say YES then 100% of the times you will have no problems. The truth is that you “should be fine” – which mean that in all likelihood (not 100% of a sure thing) you will have no problems at most law enforcement agencies.

      You may be asked why you created the tattoo, you may be asked to cover it if it’s on your wrists, you may be denied employment, or you may be asked nothing.

      There are no 100% guarantees when it comes to body art and law enforcement. Best thing to do is to ask the agency that you would like to work for about their tattoo art policy.

      Also, please read the article and the questions asked before yours. They should help you out with your question.

  • Aaron George

    I am getting a tattoo on the back of my right upper arm. it will go from the shoulder to the elbow, and its going to be my last name with a latin saying on each side. it will be partly visible with short sleeves on. with that said, i have a year left to get my masters degree in criminology, but want to start my career in the field as an officer at a local PD, and then want to become federal eventually. do you think this tattoo(the only one i will have) will hurt my chances?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      It should be fine, but I would still ask the PD about their body art policy.

  • Nathan Smith

    i have a tattoo on my left wrist but it’s not very big. It’s a tattoo that i had done for my grandad when he died. It can be covered up easily, would i still beable to get into the police force?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      I think it should be fine, but it’s always worth checking with the agency in question.

  • Tony Kaufman

    I have a tattoo sleeve on my left arm. It consists of church related tattoos. I’m considering checking the pd of queens, Chicago and possibly around the Sacramento cali areas. Any ideas on this one?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      I think you should be fine, but again, always check with the PD. It’s normal to call and ask about such things because a lot of people have tattoos.

  • Darek

    Hey i know that this will be a little off topic but i want to become a police officer and i just started doing my associate degree and i heard that i need to fill out an application as soon as possible because people usually wait 2 years for PD to accept it, is that true? I mean i hear a lot of stories and i dont know how or where to start. Please help, thx.

    • Radek M. Gadek


      Some PDs hire once/twice a year and some hire once every few years or so. As long as a degree is not a requirement at the time of application or hire, you can apply and have it completed before you start or while you’re already hired. There’s a preconceived notion that you MUST HAVE a degree — Associate’s or Bachelor’s — before you apply, but the truth is that many police agencies allow you to be hired on and complete your degree or a specific number of college credits within a certain amount of time while serving on the force. You may even qualify to have your college paid for. Contact the PD you’re interested in or visit their site to find out more… Ask for a recruiter.

  • Lili

    I was wondering if I could get a job as a DNA Analyst (the people who work in the lab all the time) if I got a tattoo on the right side of my lower back. Its nothing bad, just a sacred heart with wings and a halo over the flames and a biblical saying in the banner. I would think if its easy to cover up, I’d be fine, but I want to make sure before I do it

    • Radek M. Gadek

      I think you should have no problems, but each organization — including many private ones that administer lab tests — may have some sort of policies about that. Still, you should be on a safe side, in my opinion. Contact the organization in question and ask, anonymously if you want, about their body art policy (if they have any).

  • joe B. Green

    can I have a tattoo on one of my forearms.

    • Radek M. Gadek

      That all depends where you’re applying and on the body art policies the employer has. The best way to find out is to call the recruiter directly. If the department is small contact them directly and ask. There’s nothing wrong if you do? Imagine, there are thousands of police officers that have some sort of tattoo or multiple tattoos.

  • eduardo

    i was wondering if i could get a police officer job if i have a tattoo in my fore arm if its a religious tattoo???

    • Radek M. Gadek

      You should be fine, but best practice is to take it up with the agency you want to work for.

  • ronald aragon

    i was wondering if it would be a problem on me becoming a police officer in california if i have a tattoo on my middle finger is a diamond, would that affect me ??

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Depends what it signifies. Each person is being scrutinized individually, but even so, there are many police officers with tattoos.

  • Donavan maclin

    I’m in the us coast guard and i have a tattoo on my forearm and wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement when i get out…. its a cross.. will it hold me back

    • Radek M. Gadek

      I think that you should be just fine, but please read the article + comments to get the full picture. Issues of meaning behind a tattoo and location of application to a new leo position may matter.