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Police chief defends dress code branded 'draconian'

New dress code bans tattoos and introduces facial hair rules.
Published - 31/08/2018 By - JJ Hutber- Police Oracle

A chief constable insisted new force policy vetoing stubble has been “well received” by his staff.

Unite union described the South Yorkshire Police dress and appearance code as “entirely unnecessary”.

Staff and officers are banned from dying their hair extreme or vivid colours (or using hair accessories which are not black or navy), growing long beards or stubble or having getting tattoos visible in normal duty uniform.

Existing staff are ordered to cover up tattoos, wearing long sleeves where necessary, and new tattoos on the head, face, neck, hands or arms will be considered gross misconduct.

Jewellery is restricted to small stud earrings, a watch, wedding or signet ring and a necklace worn under clothing.

The guidance, which was rolled out this summer, applies to all public-facing staff and officers.

“South Yorkshire Police recognises the prevalence of body art in modern society and the right of each individual to make their own choices about their appearance.

“We are cognisant however, that for a cross section of the public we serve, visible tattoos can serve to diminish the confidence they have in us as public servants,” the dress code states.

“Tattoos that are visible in normal duty uniform i.e. face, scalp, ears, neck, hands, and forearms or visible in an open collared/short sleeved shirt are not considered appropriate for those in public facing roles.

“Existing staff with such visible tattoos must ensure they are covered at all times.

“Facial hair should be neat and tidy. Do not dye it in conspicuously unnatural colours. An unshaven/stubbly appearance is unacceptable unless you are growing a beard or moustache. This does not apply where there is a genuine medical reason not to shave.

“Lengthy beards are not acceptable for health and safety reasons.”  

Officers are also not allowed to wear uniform for off-duty social media appearances and must write to their district command team if they want to wear uniform to an event.

Staff union Unite said South Yorkshire Police did not consult with them before introducing the policy.  

Regional officer Shane Sweeting said: “The rules on matters such as tattoos and hair colouring mean that South Yorkshire police and police staff will not reflect the community they serve, which is essential to gain the support of the general public”.

“Unite fully appreciates that police officers and public facing staff need to have some guidance but to issue this huge procedures document is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

“Unite will fully support any member who falls foul of the policy or who believes that the policy is unfair or discriminatory and we will be lobbying South Yorkshire police to enter into meaningful negotiations to produce a workable policy that reflects the society which we live.”

South Yorkshire Police admitted the consultation process “could have been concluded more succinctly” but said it is “disingenuous to say the Unite trade union was not consulted”.

A spokesman for the force said the new regulations are “part of a wider drive to achieve excellence”.

Chief Constable Stephen Watson who sanctioned the change in policy said: “What is described as ‘draconian’ in some quarters represents no more than a clear and reasonable set of expectations as to the professional appearance of our staff.

“The idea that our taking a clear stance on these issues will come at the expense of public confidence is simply wrong.

“Our staff are proud to represent South Yorkshire Police and the Crown and this policy sets out what the public have a right to expect of their police force.

“It is for this reason that the policy, whilst perhaps not universally popular, has been well received by many of our staff who are as anxious as I am to uphold standards.”

In neighbouring West Yorkshire Police officers are permitted small and inoffensive tattoos on their necks and hands but not arms while North Yorkshire Police officers do not have to cover up with long sleeves.

Earlier this summer West Yorkshire Police federation equalities lead Guy King told Police Oracle the federation has been pushing to change the force tattoo policy for some time as members consider it outdated and unfair.

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