08/10/2012 05:13 EDT | Updated 10/10/2012 05:12 EDT

Medicine Hat police must hide tattoos

A new anti-tattoo policy for police officers is creating a stir in the city of Medicine Hat, Alta.

Chief Andy McGrogan says he's pleased the changes, which prohibit his officers from revealing any tattoos, piercings or wearing unnaturally coloured hair.

The changes are well researched thanks to a 2011 community survey that McGrogan said showed residents favoured appearance standards for police, McGrogan said.

“It’s not what I think, it’s what members of the community think,” McGrogan told CBC News. “At the end of the day, our community has spoken and we just changed our policy to reflect that.”

Coverup policy already in place

McGrogan says the force already has a policy that requires members cover tattoos. The biggest change will be for women who wear earrings. Any piercings around the face, including ears, have been determined to be unsafe.

The policy change stemmed from a tattooed officer requesting to display his tattoos.

Staff Sgt. Brent Secondiak said staff were not surprised by the new policy.

“I would say most of the members probably have a small one at one place or another. Very few have sleeves or exposed tattoos on their arms,” Secondiak said. “We’re OK with it. We’re really here to serve the community.”

In Ontario, the provincial police attempted to place restrictions on tattoos, but that decision was later overturned.

Tattoo shop owner Samantha Barron said she can't believe the policy change.

"I think it's pathetic that the police officers with tattoos now have to hide who they are," she said. "And it makes them less a part of our community.”

McGrogan said the policy will be revisited in the future as public opinion evolves.

"Now you see a full-sleeve tattoo and you hardly look twice — at least I don't.” McGrogan said. “I think the community's acceptance level may change and we'll have to gauge that at some point."

Medicine Hat is a 295 kilometres southeast of Calgary.