SPD loosens pot, tattoo rules for new recruits

SEATTLE -- While you probably won't see officers with Mike-Tyson facial tattoos smoking joints while on bike patrol, the Seattle Police Department has loosened some of its regulations for new recruits in an effort to employ officers who better reflect the community they serve.

According to Mayor Mike McGinn, who announced the changes Monday morning in Beacon Hill, the city plans on hiring more than 300 new police officers over the next five years.

"When we announced SPD 20/20, we promised to do everything possible to make sure we're recruiting new officers for our police force who reflect the diversity and values of the community they serve," McGinn said in a statement. "We are determined to make the most of this opportunity to shape the police department of the future."

As part of those changes, the police department is clarifying some of its regulations for officers' personal appearance, including tattoos, branding and other body modifications.

Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said the question of tattoos used to be confusing for applicants, even Ivy-League-educated ones, who would look at the job requirements and feel like tattoos would disqualify them.

For example, the old policy started with the phrase, "Applicants may not have tattoos, branding, voluntary disfigurement or scarification," before clarifying, "On the face, ears, neck, head or hands."

"There's nothing policy-wise that would prohibit an officer from having full arm tattoos," Whitcomb said.

The department has now made changes to the rules to make it clear that tattoos and other body modifications will not disqualify applicants and will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis as long as it does not prevent them from maintaining a professional appearance.

In addition, as part of changes announced in December following the passage of I-502, new recruits must simply not have used marijuana in the past year. Previously, recruits were required to not have used pot in the past three years and fewer than 25 times overall.

Officers, like all city employees, will not be allowed to use pot as it would put federal grant money at risk, Whitcomb said. He said it also conflicts with officers' oaths to uphold the law as marijuana use is still illegal at the federal level.

The Seattle Police Department is also hoping to increase the diversity of its officers by partnering with community organizations, such as the Atlantic Street Center, Filipino Community of Seattle and El Centro De La Raza, and hosting community-based workshops to prepare possible new recruits.

Other changes include new advertising and other materials shaped by community input, the waving of a $25 application fee, and an increased use of social media.