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Marked for life Tattoos are often a source of personal expression and pride, but when it comes to careers and other opportunities body art can cause problems

Craig Arnold has two big dreams. One is to be a police officer, same as his grandfather before him.

The other is to have a right arm that's a work of art.

Arnold is close to achieving that second dream, now that the intricate multicolored tattoo covering his bicep and forearm -- an investment of more than 30 hours in a tattoo studio and thousands of dollars -- is almost done.

But the other dream -- the law enforcement one -- seems pretty far away.

Arnold, 24, a graduate of West Seneca East High School and Hilbert College, found out when seeking to apply for the New York State Police that his tattoos will bar him from employment as a state trooper. Under a new rule, adopted in 2006, the State Police won't consider hiring people who have tattoos that are visible when an open-necked, short-sleeved shirt is worn.

"As tattoos become more common now ... that doesn't exude the kind of appearance we want," said Lt. Glenn Miner, public information officer for the State Police. "We're police officers -- we serve the public. We don't want it to appear that we're offensive to the public."

Arnold said he thinks that rule is unfair.

"Some people like animals. Some people like sculpture. Some people like cars. I like tattoos," said Arnold, who lives with his parents in West Seneca. "You can't judge my courage or integrity based on my tattoos."

Others who are heavily tattooed said they empathize with Arnold's problem.

Stares, whispers, being ignored, being passed over for opportunities -- people with body art said they've gone through it all.

"Whenever I go for a job interview, they're completely covered," said Elizabeth Cory, 24, who's in graduate school to become a neuropsychologist and who works at both ECMC and Buffalo General Hospital. She has detailed tattoos just about everywhere on her body except her chest and hands.

"As much as you think it's not going to matter, it does," Cory said. "At work, if I ever have to interact with patients, they have to be covered. You don't want them showing, because the patient instantly doesn't respect you -- instantly. And for a girl it's worse."

Tattoos, which data shows are most popular among people in their 20s and early 30s, are turning into an issue for many companies and employees.

A 2007 survey by, an online career site, found that 85 percent of people polled, representing a variety of industries across the United States, thought that tattoos and body piercings hinder a person in finding a job.

But only 16 percent of employers have explicit policies about tattoos and piercings in the workplace, the survey found.

In Buffalo, civil rights attorney David Jay said he thinks Arnold has reason to be upset by the State Police's new rule.

"This is just one more attempt by government to inflict somebody's idea of what's good upon the populace," said Jay. "I would tell [Arnold], make your application, do the exam, see if you're qualified -- and then if they refuse to anoint you, bring a lawsuit. There are any number of civil rights lawyers who would love to take the case."

Arnold's tattoos -- a Zen-like pattern of fish, flowers and birds -- are covered by long-sleeved shirts. But with short sleeves, they are visible.

In Albany, State Police officials said the policy applies to all new recruits. Any officers already in the trooper ranks are not affected by the rule, they said.

"This isn't unique to police. A lot of business do the same type of thing," said Miner. "They don't want things that are not professional."

Prospective candidates who wish to have their tattoos removed at their own expense may do so and then are welcome to apply, Lt. Miner said.

Arnold said that's impossible for him.

The complex pattern covering his right arm, from shoulder to wrist, was applied by tattoo artist Jon Mirro at Hand of Doom (HOD) tattoo studio on Elmwood Avenue, in 3-hour sessions stretching back almost a year. Mirro usually charges $125 an hour.

The arm tattoo would be prohibitively expensive to remove, and it might not even be possible, said Arnold, who also sports a radio tower tattoo on his right calf and a heart tattoo labeled "Mom and Dad."

Arnold said the arm designs he wears suit him perfectly.

"I'm a very calm person," he said. "I wouldn't want a devil's head on me. Tattoos reflect the person. I like floral designs, I like Japanese art and symbols -- flowers, dragons, chrysanthemums. I don't want to offend anybody, ever. This reflects me."

But tattoos can affect the way people are perceived, studies show.

National polling company Harris Interactive, based in Rochester, found that people who do not have tattoos perceive those people with them as less attractive, less healthy, less intelligent and "more rebellious."

That study shows that there's a wide gap between the way people with tattoos view themselves and the way others view them, said Regina Corso, director of the Harris Poll.

"It's almost always a negative connotation," said Corso, of the way tattoos are perceived by those who don't have them.

Mirro, the HOD tattoo artist, said that he believes a good tattoo shouldn't stand in the way of anybody getting ahead in their profession.

But, said Mirro, he's "a realist" about the way the business world works.

"It's definitely an easier reason for people to dismiss you," said Mirro, 29. "You have to work a little bit harder. I just think it means you'll have to work twice as hard as somebody who doesn't have tattoos."

Charlie and Connie Arnold, Craig's parents, said their son's tattoos used to bother them, before they saw the designs as artwork.

"We were pretty upset. He just went out and did it and didn't tell us," said Charlie Arnold, who retired from Verizon. "When he makes up his mind to do something, he does it."

Now they are very accepting of their son's tattoos, and also of his goal to work as a police officer.

"We've evolved, in this house," said Connie Arnold, a former day care worker. "But there are still jobs where there's a certain stigma."

Arnold said he planned to skip the trooper exam and instead take the Erie County Sheriff's Department exam in November.

Arnold, who is currently working part-time at Applebee's, finished his bachelor's degree in criminal justice at Hilbert in May. A career in law enforcement would be carrying on a family tradition -- his grandfather spent many years as captain of detectives with the West Seneca Police Department.

"I have a stand-up character," Arnold said. "If I can help one person a day -- hey, that's better than helping no persons a day."


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