A big part of Chad Dickson’s job as a Bakersfield police officer is finding a way to connect to the community so they can see him as a person outside of the badge and uniform.
His biggest conversation starter? A kaleidoscope of tattoos he has inked on his right arm that he wears on display while out on patrol.
The new piece of skin art, which he started in March 2021, has only become possible to share in the last year as Bakersfield Police Department approved a new memorandum allowing the appearance of tattoos on police officers.
Before Bakersfield Police Department approved the new policy, police officers could have tattoos, but they could not be visible to the general public. Officers had to wear long sleeve shirts or cover up any tattoos to adhere to the department’s appearance and grooming standards.
But the times are a-changing.
Once Dickson heard the news of the new tattoo policy, he booked an appointment to begin the process for the tattoo sleeve he always wanted to have – but never thought he would get.
“I get comments and questions about my artwork all the time,” said Dickson, 29. “People love it, and it really helps them see me beyond the uniform, which helps me while I am out patrolling the community. People like to see police officers express their own personalities; it makes us more approachable.”
Sergeant Jeffrey Martin has been an officer with Bakersfield Police Department for 17 years. Martin got his first tattoo while serving in the military in 1997 and he has kept going ever since. His left arm is more of a mural of memories. Each tattoo comes with a story about someone in his life.
“I have one of my K9 who passed away. It’s of his silhouette and badge number. I have the name of a friend of mine who died of Valley Fever, and then I have my dad’s badge number and my father-in-law’s badge number,” said Martin, 42. “I kept most of my tattoos on my upper arm for a while, and my sleeves covered them. But when I got one on my forearm, I did have to start to cover up. But since I was a detective, I could show my tattoos. It didn’t affect me like it did for these patrol officers who had to wear long sleeves in the middle of a 105-degree Bakersfield summer.”
The Bakersfield Police Officers’ Association helped enable the new appearance and grooming standard for the Bakersfield Police Department. As recruitment needs for new officers continue to grow, the change in policies for tattoos and facial hair opens doors for more candidates to apply for a position at Bakersfield Police Department.
In 2019, Bakersfield Police Department changed its policy for facial hair for its Punjabi police officers who are Sikh. This allows them to keep their unshorn beards, which honors their culture and religion, and also allows them to be who they are.
“The department is changing for the good, and I think it’s exciting to see,” said Martin. “I think it is going to help with recruiting and getting more candidates to join us. We have a lot of good people out there and if we don’t start recruiting them, we are just going to lose them.”
Seeing the success of police officers reflecting their personalities while enforcing the law has been a catalyst for the new tattoo policy.
Recruitment Officer Seth Palmer explains that Bakersfield Police Department is open to new ways that will bring in the best and brightest to the department.
If this means changing a few of the traditional policies that once meant police officers could only look or dress one way, then it’s worth it.
“We try to be consistent with the times, and our command staff has recognized that these wins go a long way. What they really want is for our officers to feel comfortable in their skin and in their uniform,” said Palmer. A lot of times this can be an ice breaker for a police officer. They can be talking to a victim and the only thing they may have in common is a tattoo. This can potentially go a long way with the police officer.”