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Arbitrator overrules CPD on tattoo cover-up edict

Fired Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy violated the police contract when he “unilaterally” required rank-and-file police officers to cover up their tattoos, an independent arbitrator has ruled.

Five months after a federal judge ruled that the no visible tattoo edict does not violate the officers’ First Amendment rights, arbitrator Jacalyn Zimmerman upheld a grievance filed by the Fraternal Order of Police.

“The employer violated the agreement when it unilaterally implemented the revisions . . . effective June 12, 2015, banning the display of visible tattoos,” Zimmerman wrote.

“The appropriate remedy is for the department to rescind the revisions and restore the prior policy, rescind and make employees whole for any discipline issued pursuant to these revisions and to make employees whole for any discipline issued pursuant to these revisions and to make employees whole for their demonstrable losses resulting from compliance with the revisions.”

Chicago Police Department spokesman Frank Giancamilli said the department is reviewing the arbitrator’s ruling and “will make a decision in the near future on any potential action.”

Giancamilli offered no particulars on the number of officers disciplined for failing to cover their tattoos. Other sources described those numbers as “extremely low, if any.”

The FOP triumphantly announced the arbitrator’s decision on its website under the headline, “TATOO ARBITRATION WIN!”

“Although this issue was never discussed . . . during our contract negotiation process, all of a sudden the city decided to drastically change the long-standing uniform policy. All attempts to address options fell on deaf ears. The Lodge saw this as a unilateral change to working conditions and we were not going to stand by and allow the Department to arbitrarily harm the affected members,” the posting states.

“We are extremely pleased to report that . . . the Lodge won the arbitration! As a matter of fact, Arbitrator Zimmerman accepted nearly all of our many arguments. She credited FOP First Vice-President Ray Casiano’s expert testimony concerning firearms safety in addressing the terms of how the changes to the department policy could negatively affect our members’ ability to utilize their firearms,” the posting said.

Casiano could not be reached for comment to explain his argument about firearms use.

The policy change implemented by McCarthy last summer required officers to cover up their tattoos “while on duty or representing the department, whether in uniform, conservative business attire or casual dress.”

The edict required areas not covered by clothing, such as the face, neck and hands, to be covered with “matching skin tone adhesive bandage or tattoo cover-up tape.”

Last fall, U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras upheld the policy and tossed out a lawsuit filed by three officers with tattoos on their arms.

One month before the release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video further undermined the trust between residents and police, Kocoras argued that visible tattoos could “undermine the CPD’s ability to maintain the public’s trust and respect, which would negatively impact the CPD’s ability to ensure safety and order.”

Citing a tattoo of the Confederate flag as an example, Kocoras wrote, “Due to the fact that symbols can be so easily misinterpreted, regulation of tattoos by their content would be unworkable and ineffective.”

The three officers who filed the failed federal lawsuit had argued that the tattoo cover-up edict required officers to wear extra clothing or cover-up tape that would irritate their skin and overheat them when temperatures rise.

On Dec. 1, McCarthy was abruptly fired for becoming what Mayor Rahm Emanuel called a “distraction” after release of the video played around the world of a white police officer pumping 16 rounds into the body of a black teenager.