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The Bearded Policeman

I was in Walmart recently and saw a uniformed LCPD officer with a beard. I had seen officers from other agencies sporting full beards and goatees over the years and figured it was now okayed by LCPD brass so I stopped and chatted with the officer. I won't identify him by name or location, but I did tell him I was retired LCPD and asked about the facial hair. In my years of service, a mustache was allowed with certain restrictions (no wider than the corners of the mouth and not to extend beneath the lips, i.e. no Fu Manchus), but beards could only be worn by those in special assignments like Metro.

The officer was friendly. He responded to my question, "They let you guys wear beards now in uniform?" with an affirmative response and added that he believed it was a recruiting tool to try and attract more officers. Smart ass that I am, I was tempted to ask "Male or female?" but I didn't (there is a story behind that, which I will expound on in greater detail below).

Historically speaking, police departments nationwide allowed mustaches to be worn by uniformed police officers. Old black & white photos from over a century ago show coppers sporting them. Other facial hair, however, such as beards and goatees, were not allowed on uniformed officers or investigators.This carried on with nearly every department throughout the 20th century. I believe this was primarily because law enforcement agencies are paramilitary, and the branches of the military have generally demanded a clean-shaven appearance on the troops as the order of the day (the U.S. Navy was an exception to that during the era that I served in the Marines. I worked side-by-side with sailors who were allowed to sport beards in the 1970s).

I believe the changes regarding facial hair in today's law enforcement community came about for three reasons, the first two being a relaxed attitude overall regarding appearance and the second being the strength of police unions. Unions are made up of the rank & file, the bulk of whom are in their twenties and thirties, and young cops view those ancient (forty-something) dinosaurs in police administration as archaic relics from the Stone Age clinging to antiquated policies from the past. I would know, I was a young cop myself once upon a time and, later, a deputy chief involved in policy reviews.

The third reason, and perhaps the most important, involves the difficulty in recruiting and retaining officers for the job. Thank-you, liberal progressives, who view law enforcement as the enemy and want to make their job as difficult as possible while crapping on them at every opportunity, but simultaneously demand that we come and save them when the stuff hits the fan and they desperately need an officer.

Outside of number three above, uniformed appearances have changed dramatically since I joined up forty-three years ago, a time when eight-point hats were worn without exception, as were ties on long-sleeved shirts during the winter, and uniforms were always pressed or dry-cleaned with a polished badge pinned on (not sewn on), and shoes or boots glossy if not spit-shined. We also wore leather rigs around the waist. I may offend some young coppers with this statement, but in the 70s and 80s LCPD cops looked far more squared away and professional than they do today with their shorts, T-shirts, dungarees, tennis shoes, baseball caps, and foot gear that looks like it was shined using a Hershey bar for polish and a brick for a brush. Detectives were also clean-shaven and always wore coats and ties.

The changes began occurring in the 1990s with the advent of bicycle cops and K-9. Bicycle cops, by necessity, wore T-shirts, shorts and tennies along with lighter non-leather gear around their waists, and no head gear except the plastic helmet they wore while riding. A couple of bicycle cops turned into a unit of 25 community police officers all dressed the same, which constituted one-fourth of uniformed officers on the street. K-9 wanted to wear military fatigues since they had to go where their dogs went, meaning they were sometimes on the ground crawling through small spaces or picking up the dog and carrying it over obstacles to continue a search. Like bicycle cops, their job function made the Class A uniform impractical. Those trousers they wore also had extra pockets to carry gear, and K-9 officers also were approved to wear ball caps for the first time in LCPD history.

Thirty years, and many uniform policy adjustments later, here we are. I think beards on uniformed officers look okay, but just okay, not great. Like anything else involving hair, some wear it better than others. A scraggly beard looks just like what it is: scraggly. I think a clean-shaven appearance is more professional looking. Certainly beards are warmer in the winter months but won't be nearly as comfortable in the summer. I grow a beard every winter and will keep it until spring, but then again I've been retired for 21 years. The only advice I would have for a copper wearing a beard is keep it short. You get into a fight with enough growth on your face for someone to grab and yank, I promise you are not going to be having a good day.

Finally, what was my unspoken wisecrack about, regarding the officer's belief that the policy change that was instituted was to help recruit officers (and I refrained from asking male or female)? One of the female officers I supervised in the 1990s was a self-centered, self-serving brown-noser. I won't get into detail about this useless sack of manure that wore the LCPD uniform for a few years before quitting, but I will tell you that her fellow officers, both male and female, had no use for her. She was the type to visit police administration on a daily basis and do whatever she did behind closed doors with a certain (married) captain. 'Nuff said.

Fast forward a couple of years. She came to me and asked what I knew about anabolic steroids. My response was that they were not good for the body and that the short-term results were not worth the long-term health risks. I had lifted weights for years at that point and took a dim view of the "get big quick" mentality behind steroid use. She said "okay, just asking for a friend." Right. I knew she had applied for the fire department but couldn't pass the physical agility test so now she wanted to get on the juice to build up strength and try again. Steroid use resulted, predictably, in physical changes in her body, not the least of which was prominent facial hair.

One night shortly after, something that I found amusing occurred. Officer Brown-Nose was in the station booking a drunk driver and I happened to be present. It was a Friday night and busy, with several arrestees in the two booking room cages. Normally, as a sergeant I would be in the field and not the booking room, but for some forgotten reason I was there at another officer's request. The drunk arrested by Officer Brown-Noser was standing handcuffed in a cell facing her while she stood at the counter doing paperwork. I was standing next to her viewing a document given to me by the officer who had called me in.

"Hey!" the drunk yelled at Officer Brown-Nose. She ignored him and so he yelled again. "Hey!" When she looked at him, he nodded at me and then addressed her. "How come he has to shave and you don't?" Then he laughed uproariously at his own humor.

Talk about difficulty keeping a straight face. I had to put my hand to my mouth and turn my back. That will always be my favorite LCPD beard story. And, no, Officer Brown-Nose did not pass the subsequent LCFD physical agility test, despite the steroids.

Semper Fi!


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