Applicants for the position of state trooper in Vermont will no longer need to have bare arms in order to qualify to bear arms.

A policy that would reject applicants to the Vermont State Police if that person has a tattoo visible when the applicant is wearing one of the short-sleeved uniforms troopers wear during summer was changed as of this week.

A statement released by State Police announcing the new policy said the change “recognizes a growing acceptance and prevalence of tattoos.”

Col. Matthew T. Birmingham, State Police director, said in the statement that tattoos have become more “popular and widespread.”

“This updated policy recognizes this and allows the Vermont State Police to recruit and attract a wider pool of qualified applicants — from people who are interested in joining law enforcement for the first time to members of other agencies who wish to become a Vermont state trooper,” Birmingham said.

Tattoos that indicate an extremist, sexist or racist ideology or affiliation would still disqualify an applicant, as would tattoos on the face, neck or hands, although commitment-band tattoos on ring fingers are allowed.

Capt. Julie Scribner, State Police staff operations commander, said the tattoo policy has changed over the years.

In 2007, the VSP would not allow any tattoos that would be visible when a trooper was in uniform.

“In 2013, we sort of backed that off a little bit because ... it seemed like it was pretty restrictive,” she said.

There were a number of restrictions on tattoos, which couldn’t be “prejudicial to good order” or morale. The next year, officials at the VSP decided those restrictions were too subjective, so the agency returned to its policy of not allowing any visible tattoos.

The new policy requires new troopers to cover their arms with fabric sleeves, available in black or an array of skin tones, while on duty if they have tattoos that would be seen while wearing the short-sleeved uniform, or any other uniform which leaves the arms visible.

Scribner said one reason for the new policy was that the VSP was not attracting as many applicants as it once did.

“We were trying to brainstorm. ‘Well, how else could we assist our recruiting unit?’ This came up as an option,” she said.

Another reason for the old VSP policy reflected a stigma that Scribner said was attached to tattoos decades ago, when tattoos were frequently worn by gang members and those who had spent time in prison.

But Scribner said that stigma also disqualified another population that often had tattoos: Members of the military.

“These are men and women who had honorably served their country and weren’t able to serve the state of Vermont because of their tattoos. They’re certainly eligible to apply now,”

Some local departments have no policy about tattoos, like the Rutland City Police Department. Chief Brian Kilcullen said there were officers who had tattoos and he had never heard any concerns about them.

Chief Timothy Bombardier, of the Barre City Police Department, said his department didn’t have a written tattoo policy.

“The issue of tattoos has only come up a couple of times. This is probably going to make me sit down and put one in writing,” he said.

Bombardier said other than a tattoo on an applicant’s face, neck or hands, he would only have one concern.

“The real hard, fast rule for me is, ‘No hate.’ I don’t care who you hate, just no hate whatsoever, whether you can see it in public or you can only see it if you’re wearing swim trunks. I don’t want officers displaying hate tattoos of any kind,” he said.

In his statement, Birmingham said the change of policy could lead to good things for those considering a career as a Vermont State Police trooper.

“Where an applicant with a visible arm tattoo may have faced a significant hurdle in the past, we are now able to advance such applicants through the process toward a rewarding and challenging career with Vermont’s largest law-enforcement agency,” he said.

patrick.mcardle @rutlandherald.com

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