A new initiative by the Santa Fe Police Department allowing officers to grow beards will be extended for another 90 days.
The 90-day program, which had an initial end date in late June, will be extended for another 90 days, and allows officers to grow facial hair that is professionally groomed and a quarter inch or shorter.
Santa Fe Police Chief Paul Joye made the change after he was appointed interim chief back in December. At the time, he met with officers for suggestions on how to improve the workplace, and several of his employees asked if he could change the facial hair policy that forbids growing beards.
After meeting with the department’s deputy chiefs and comparing the situation with law enforcement agencies around the country, Joye approved a 90-day pilot program to loosen the facial hair restrictions.
Officers say that roughly 75% of the uniformed personnel took advantage of the new policy, saying the beards made them feel more confident and personable while on duty.
Sergeant Nick Chavez, who had worn a beard for 15 years before joining the department, is happy to see the change.
“I think it is something that allows officers to exercise more of their human side,” Chavez said.
Others, like Senior Officer Gerald Lovato, called the initiative a morale-booster.
Lovato, whose beard earned him the nickname “salt and pepper” by his colleagues, said he has seen officers with beards walking with a “pep in their step.”
“I look like I’m ready for retirement,” he joked during an afternoon briefing.
The topic of beards in the workplace is a somewhat controversial issue, especially in law enforcement, but acceptance of beards is growing.
For example, Canada recently allowed military personnel to grow facial hair. Several sheriff’s offices in Louisiana have also revoked their departments’ clean-shaven policies.
However, other agencies in New Mexico are not as lenient as the SFPD.
For instance, New Mexico’s Department of Public Safety policies and procedures handbook says that officers must be clean-shaven on duty and are prohibited from growing a beard, goatee or mustache.
In addition, the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office prohibits beard growth for uniformed officers unless they have a certain dermatological or medical condition where it would be beneficial. Spokesman Juan Ríos said that officers are allowed to grow mustaches as long as they are trimmed and groomed.
The SFPD previously allowed plainclothes detectives and undercover officers to grow facial hair if approved by a supervisor, but allowing beards for uniformed officers is a new experiment.
Chief Joye recently wrote in an email that the decision to extend the policy is based on positive feedback from officers and the community.
“The feedback so far from the public has been mostly positive, and the officers participating seem to be happy with the change,” he wrote.
Officers say they are keeping their beards well-manicured to keep the policy in place.
“We’re like, ‘Don’t mess this up, or they will take it away,’” Lovato said.
Chavez added that he personally hopes the temporary policy will become a permanent one because it makes officers look more intimidating.
“I personally would not mess with a cop with a beard,” he said. “They look tougher.”