In the United States, the military has stringent rules in regards to uniform and grooming. These rules often extend to police officers, firefighters, and other civil servants. All based on the premise that personal appearance contributes to discipline and a sense of camaraderie — this poses the question: do police officers have to shave?
In short, all branches of the U.S. Military and the vast majority of police departments in the country demand active personnel to shave. Nonetheless, well-groomed mustaches are generally allowed except for those undergoing basic training. There are a few exemptions, such as to accommodate religious practices or for medical reasons.
Thus, if you are thinking of joining a police corps, you might want to continue reading.
Can You Have a Beard in the Police?
Police departments across the country all have strict policies when it comes to on-duty officers’ appearance. There is even a section on Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement that covers “Grooming,” describing what is and is not allowed.
As a rule of thumb, well-groomed mustaches (if they do not extend below the line of the upper lip) are acceptable. But, beards are usually banned from the force. Why? Simple. Full beards may interfere with the proper wearing of uniform headgear, such as gas masks or helmets. Plus, they might contribute to a messy appearance.
However, in recent years, “light” facial beards, also known as shadow beards, have become acceptable. For instance, in Boston, MA, there is a specific clause within the code of conduct manual that states:
“All uniformed personnel, when reporting for duty, shall be appropriately groomed… If a beard or mustache is worn, it shall be trimmed at all times in order not to present a ragged appearance.
The bulk of the beard (the distance that the mass of facial hair protrudes from the skin of the face) shall not exceed one-half an inch. The length of the individual facial hair shall be limited to three-quarters of an inch.”
It is important to note, however, that depending on the state or task force, rules may vary.
Although most police departments prohibit beards, there are some explicit exemptions to the rule, including:
Beards have always been accepted within the police force if justified by a medical condition. There are skin conditions aggravated by shaving that obliged police departments to revise their strict “no beard” policies.
As a result, department members who suffer from skin conditions aggravated by shaving, such as pseudo folliculitis barbae or severe acne, can apply for an exemption to the clean-shaven policy. If granted, the police officer is issued an exception by the police’s medical department.
In some departments such as the Chicago Police Department, every officer that has written permission often referred to as the “Clean-Shaven Policy Card” must carry it with him at all times while on-duty.
Note that even with a medical exemption, officers must comply with all other grooming standards, including hair, mustache, side-burns, and uniform policies.
In general, officers are allowed to have beards if religious practices justify it. Officers that grow a beard based on religious beliefs must have written approval from the deputy commissioner of Equal Employment Opportunity (or other similar authorities.)
This exemption to the rule comes from a long-standing dispute regarding Muslim officers who complained (and sometimes refused) to trim their beards — alleging it went against their religion. And even though the Qur’an says nothing about facial hair specifically, it was deemed acceptable.
According to the Law Enforcement Code of Conduct, beards must be trimmed to 0.4 inches (1 millimeter). However, a few years back, the NYPD started accepting uniformed officers to grow facial hair for religious beliefs. Soon, other States followed by revising their policies.
Today, all officers are allowed to have a beard if religious practices justify it. But, said beard must not be any longer than a half-inch. Requests for lengths greater than that are usually reviewed and decided case-by-case.
Undercover Agents & Detectives
As expected, all undercover agents are allowed to retain any facial hair required by the assignment. Thus, they are another explicit exemption to the clean-shaved rule required by most task forces.
This allowance has a lot to do with the fact that undercover agents are supposed to play a part by acting as civilians. Hence, in some cases having a clean-shaved beard might call for unwanted attention. Plus, when working undercover missions, officers never wear the uniform — making it easier for them to bend the “no beard” rule.
Furthermore, many police departments allow Detectives, who wear plain clothes, to grow beards and “goatees” as long as they are neatly groomed.
However, note that these rules vary greatly, depending on the State and chief officer in charge.
“No-Shave November” and “Movember” are now worldwide movements to increase awareness about men’s health. Thus, as of a few years, the campaign has extended into many police corps. As a result, during November, officers are allowed to grow beards/mustaches as a means for fundraising.
The purpose of this concept is not to let officers grow untidy or messy beards that could affect their overall appearance, but to raise awareness. In doing so, most officers participating pledge a specific sum of money (usually $100) to forgo shaving. All proceeds are then donated to an organization within the community linked to Prostate Cancer or other similar causes.
Curious to know if police officers buy their own equipment? Find out here: https://civilservicehq.com/do-police-officers-have-to-buy-their-own-guns-and-equipment/
Other Grooming and Appearance Policies
There are many different grooming policies included within the Law Enforcement Code of Conduct regarding appearance, including:
All male officers must have their hair cut above the collar and ears. It must be well-groomed and neat at all times. Recently, some departments allow longer hairstyles if securely tied in a ponytail or bun.
Female police officers are not required to have a particular hair length (unless there are still in the academy). Nonetheless, as an active member of the force, they must, at all times (while on-duty), adhere to the standards set forth by their department.
Hence, this usually means that it should be off the uniform collar and secured tidy above the ears. Conservative styles, including pin-ups, buns, braids, and ponytails, are allowed.
Throughout many decades active police officers were not allowed to have any tattoos. Thus, when entering the force, police academies conducted medical check-ups to look for inked or pierced areas.
Today, most police departments accept officers with tattoos if they are not visible while wearing the uniform. Some more liberal task forces, even allow tattoos on arms/hands. However, there are still very stringent rules in place prohibiting tattoos on the neck/face, or that include designs that may be deemed inappropriate or offensive.
Jewelry & Piercings
In general, male officers are not allowed to have earrings as it goes against the code of conduct. Female officers, on the other hand, can wear earrings as long as they are small studs or hoops. Usually, hoop earrings larger than one inch are prohibited for safety reasons.
Besides earrings (for female officers), there is a strict “no jewelry” rule while on-duty or while wearing the uniform. This policy applies to rings, bracelets, necklaces, and chains. Crucifixes, crosses, star of David necklaces, and other religious jewelry may be worn if it is not visible while wearing the uniform.
Note that some police departments allow officers to wear wedding and engagement rings, with permission, and on a case-by-case basis.
Although not every officer complies with this policy, most police departments prohibit smoking while wearing the uniform or on-duty while in public view. Other more stringent states, required police forces to ban members from smoking (even in the privacy of their home) due to insurance policies.
Moreover, there is no smoking in police vehicles or department facilities. Across the country, a significant number of police stations are designated smoke-free areas by law. However, depending on the jurisdiction, different rules may apply.
Are Muslim and Hindu officers allowed to wear turbans?
As of recent years, police officers and members of the U.S. military who are part of the Muslim or Hindu religions are allowed to wear their religious hair attire, including turbans and hijabs, while wearing their official uniforms.
Nonetheless, just as with beards, they must request a written permit justifying their appearance based on religious beliefs.
Are there physical qualifications to become a police officer?
Overall, the police officers (as well as many other civil servants) have responsibilities that will place them in harm’s way. More so, the nature of a policeman’s job requires them sometimes to overcome extreme physical challenges while enforcing the law.
As a result, police departments usually impose strict physical qualifications for candidates who want to serve on their force, including:
- Vision Qualifications
- Hearing Qualifications
- Height/Weight Standards
- Coordination Requirements
Furthermore, all police officers must undergo and pass periodic clinical examinations (e.g., blood tests, eye exams, psychological tests) as well as physical endurance and ability tests.
To learn how to best prepare and study for your police exam click here.
Interested to learn more about the civil service? Check out our free guide here: https://civilservicehq.com/
Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.
Hi! I’m Shawn Chun and I’m so grateful that you’re here.
Civil servants are some of the hardest working, most generous people I know. I have been passionate about all types of civil service career paths for years now and enjoy sharing everything I continue to learn about them.
Civil Service HQ strives to be the ultimate resource for learning everything about a career within the civil service.
Our mission is to empower you with information to help you decide which civil servant career path is best for you and to provide you with the tools needed to increase your chance of success in that career path.