Police Revise Tattoo Policy Following Opinion Piece - NECN
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Police Revise Tattoo Policy Following Opinion Piece

Tattoos a veteran had gotten while on active duty had barred him from applying to some police departments

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    Police in Manchester, New Hampshire, have revised a tattoo policy following an opinion piece by a veteran's wife. (Published Monday, July 6, 2015)

    In an effort to maintain a professional image, many local police departments in New Hampshire prohibit people with visible tattoos from applying.

    It's been that way in Manchester for the past 18 months, but after reading an op-ed piece written by a combat veteran's wife, Chief Nick Willard made a policy change.

    Zach Ferguson's tattoos represent the eight years of his life he spent serving our nation.

    "It's the one percent of the Americans who actually fight for the country," Ferguson explained while pointing out his "1%" tattoo.

    After three combat tours overseas, Ferguson is home with his family, and now wants to serve his community as a police officer.

    "That would be the one thing I never thought would disqualify me," he said.

    Ferguson tells necn he can't even apply to most departments in the state, because they have bans on any tattoos that are visible below a tee-shirt sleeve.

    "It wasn't looking for the best person for the job, it was looking for the best person without tattoos for the job," said Ferguson's wife, Annie Kelly.

    After years of job hunting, Kelly decided enough was enough.

    "He spent more than 40 months overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan in combat zones," Kelly said. "He's good enough to do all that but not good enough to be officer in your department."

    She asked that question in an op-ed piece printed in a local newspaper in May.

    "When we couldn't answer her question, we changed our policy and that's what I am really proud of," said Chief Nick Willard.

    Willard became Manchester Police Chief on July first, that same day the department's ban on visible tattoos was reversed.

    "Her husband couldn't serve her community, yet he could serve overseas in combat three times over," Willard said. "That resonated with me to the point where it affected change."

    Chief Willard says when the ban went into effect 18 months ago, he saw a steep decline in recruitment numbers.

    "I was watching applicant after applicant after applicant being told to leave testing process," he explained.

    And as a military veteran himself, he couldn't stand turning away qualified candidates, especially vets, just because of their ink.

    "I am not sure there is any segment of society more qualified for police officer skill set than a United States soldier," Willard said.

    And now, for this soldier, it's on to the next challenge.

    "Start running and staying in shape," Ferguson said.

    Manchester starts recruiting at the end of summer.

    "I don't want anything given to me, I just want to try, that's it," Ferguson said.

    Chief Willard makes it clear he will not permit anyone with offensive, violent, or racist tattoos to be a part of his force.

    If applicants make it through round one, their tattoos will need to be approved before moving on.

    While necn interviewed Chief Willard Monday, an older gentleman stopped in at the police station asking to shake the Chief's hand. He wanted to say, "thank you." That man told necn he works with homeless vets and says the policy change will open the door for so many veterans whose tattoos have been holding them back.

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