Can a Police Officer or Cop Have a Beard, Mustache, or Facial Hair?

If you’re a fan of 70s and 80s movies, you’ve likely seen a cop with an impressive mustache. Does a cop movie character imitate real life when it comes to facial hair? It depends.

Traditionally, the grooming standards for police officers have prohibited beards, although well-trimmed mustaches are often allowed. Facial hair grooming standards vary across departments, with some jurisdictions forbidding facial hair entirely, and others allowing as much a short beard. Each municipality has its own policy and exemptions.

If you’re curious about police officer grooming rules and exemptions, read on!

Are police officers allowed to have beards, mustaches, or facial hair?

Police officer grooming standards have historically followed the lead of military organizations – clean-shaven faces preferred. However, facial hair can be a dynamic topic in today’s public service work environment.

The majority of police officers remain clean-shaven but grooming standards have relaxed over time. Many grooming policies now allow for mustaches, stubble, and even goatees.

Travel around the country and you will see plenty of variation in the degree of facial hair allowed in police departments. External influences can even cause temporary changes to occur.

In Prince George County, Maryland, twenty-five police officers were put on administrative leave in 2020 for failing to shave. Their grooming policy allowed for facial hair, but recently during the height of caution against contagious illness, a new policy was enacted requiring clean-shaven faces in order for the N95 masks to fit properly.

Who decides facial hair policy for police officers?

Browse through police officer discussion boards and you will see different opinions about facial policies across the U.S. Many respondents say the police chief’s preferences rule. 

Each federal law enforcement agency and local police department sets its own facial hair policy. Facial hair standards can vary due to the role assigned within each department. New recruit standards are typically more strict than those of established officers.

Many departments are relaxing facial hair policies in order to improve morale and adapt to changing norms and trends. After a short trial period in 2020, Virginia Beach PD’s Chief decided to update their grooming policy to allow facial hair to “promote interpersonal communication within the community while improving morale within the agency.”

On the other hand, some departments are sticking to the same clean-shaven grooming policy followed for decades. One respondent said, “If the Chief has facial hair, chances are the policy will allow for some.”

Does facial hair policy for police officers vary by state?

If you are a cop and want to change jurisdictions, it’s always a good idea to ask about grooming standards as they can vary widely.

Facial hair policies for police officers do vary by state and can be more district in at a county, city, or predict level.

The Massachusetts State Police force prides itself on its no facial hair policy. Their policy even prohibits mustaches. Clean-shaven faces have been their tradition for almost 100 years. 

In contrast, the Milpitas, California force allows beards as long as they are “neat, trimmed, and do not exceed ½ inch.”

Do some police departments allow facial hair?

Mustaches are known as a badge of honor for many cops. In fact, seasoned officers say it’s easy to tell a fresh recruit by the absence of a ‘stache.

Most police departments do allow some facial hair. Mustaches are common in police departments across the country. The department leadership sets the standards.

Grooming policies outline the maximum length and placement of facial hair. Mustaches have to remain trimmed and cannot exceed the lip line. Most policies that allow for beards usually set a ¼ to ½ inch limit on length.

Are there exemptions for beards and mustaches for police officers?

Are there different rules for undercover cops versus patrol officers? What if you suffer from a skin condition that makes shaving painful? Do you still have to shave? The truth is grooming rules aren’t always one-size-fits-all.

Exemptions to grooming policies may be granted on a case-by-case basis. The police officer’s role may require more relaxed standards. Legally, exemptions can be made on the basis of religious and cultural beliefs or for medical reasons. Even fundraising events can relax the grooming rules for a period of time.

There are similar exemptions for other first responders such as firefighters, as well.

Let’s look at some specific scenarios and how they might accommodate a change in policy.

Detectives and undercover officers

Grooming requirements while in uniform are understandable. But, what about plainclothes detectives and undercover officers? Are they held to the same uniform standard? 

Detectives and undercover officers aren’t held to the same grooming standards since they aren’t in uniform. The nature of their investigations often requires them to blend in and look like a civilian.

In most grooming policies, there is a section dedicated to non-uniformed personnel. Allowances are made for officers needing to assimilate into civilian environments.

Religious or cultural beliefs

U.S. Equal Opportunity laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. For some cultures and religions, facial hair is an outward expression of faith and observance.

Religious and cultural exemptions to police grooming standards are granted on an individual basis. Rights protected by law should be granted upon written request to the Chief of Police and an accommodation letter is issued to the officer.

Even if an exemption is approved, there may be some roles or assignments an officer may not be eligible for if their appearance would put safety at risk. For example, in situations where a gas mask is needed, facial hair would compromise the seal of the mask.

Medical reasons

The Americans with Disabilities Act ensures employers provide accommodation for employees with disabilities unless it would cause undue hardship on the employer’s business operations. 

Medical exemptions to police grooming policies are possible on a case-by-case basis. Written documentation is required to be considered, approval is granted by the Chief of Police, and an accommodation letter is given to the officer.

Pseudofolliculitis barbae is a skin condition that causes painful razor bumps when shaving. Studies show up to 60% of African Americans suffer from the condition. While some officers have received medical exemptions for this condition, others haven’t been successful.

Movember (No-Shave November)

Movember has gained in popularity since its establishment in 2003. Men are encouraged to grow a mustache or “mo” during the month as a tangible way to raise awareness for men’s health issues like prostate cancer and mental health. Money is donated when the challenge is accepted.

Movember or No-Shave November has been an accepted fundraiser in many police departments across the country. During this month, grooming policies are relaxed or waived.

Movember started as a mustache challenge but over the years has progressed into a no-shave challenge in many places. Police departments often make the news alerting the public of their temporary policy change. During the month of November, it is common to see police officers wearing varying degrees of beard growth.