Skip to Content

Can Cops Have Beards? Exploring the Rules and Regulations

A police officer's uniform with a beard attached to it

When it comes to facial hair in law enforcement, there is always a lot of debate. Are beards professional? Are they safe? Are they practical? In this article, we will explore the history, rules, and controversies around facial hair in policing.

The History of Facial Hair in Law Enforcement

The history of facial hair in law enforcement dates back to the early days of policing. In fact, many of the first police forces allowed officers to grow beards and mustaches. At the time, policing was not seen as a particularly prestigious profession, and officers had a lot of freedom when it came to their appearance.

During this early period, beards and mustaches were seen as a sign of masculinity and authority. Officers with facial hair were often viewed as more experienced and respected than their clean-shaven counterparts. This perception was so strong that some police departments actually required officers to grow beards in order to be taken seriously by the public.

However, as policing became more professionalized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, grooming standards began to tighten. Many departments started requiring officers to shave their beards and mustaches in order to present a more uniform and professional image to the public.

Early Police Forces and Facial Hair

The first police forces in the United States were often volunteer organizations made up of men from the community. Many of these early police forces did not have strict grooming standards, and it was not uncommon for officers to have beards and mustaches.

As policing became more formalized, however, these standards began to change. In the early 1900s, many police departments began requiring officers to be clean-shaven. This was seen as a way to make officers look more professional and disciplined.

Despite these changes, some police departments continued to allow officers to have facial hair. In some cases, officers were even required to grow mustaches as a sign of solidarity with their fellow officers. This was particularly true in the 1960s and 1970s, when many police departments were dealing with civil unrest and officers wanted to show their support for their colleagues.

The Evolution of Grooming Standards

Grooming standards for police officers have continued to evolve over the years. Today, most departments have specific rules about facial hair – or lack thereof. These rules are often based on concerns about professionalism, safety, and practicality.

For example, many departments require officers to be clean-shaven because it makes it easier for gas masks and other protective equipment to form a tight seal around the face. Other departments allow officers to have neatly trimmed mustaches or beards, but only if they are kept short and well-groomed.

Despite these rules, there are still some police departments that allow officers to have more unconventional facial hair. In some cases, officers are allowed to grow beards or mustaches as long as they are part of a religious or cultural tradition. For example, some Sikh officers are allowed to wear beards and turbans as part of their faith.

Overall, the history of facial hair in law enforcement is a complex and evolving one. From the early days of policing to the present day, officers have used facial hair to express their masculinity, authority, and solidarity with their colleagues. While grooming standards have become more uniform and strict over time, there is still room for individual expression and cultural diversity within the ranks of law enforcement.

The Importance of Professional Appearance in Policing

Professional appearance is an important part of policing. Police officers are often seen as representatives of the law, and their appearance can have a significant impact on how they are perceived by the public. For this reason, many departments require officers to adhere to strict grooming standards.

Uniformity and Public Perception

One reason why many departments require officers to be clean-shaven is to promote uniformity. When all officers look the same, it can be easier for the public to identify them as police. This can be especially important in high-stress situations, where officers need to be easily recognized in order to maintain order.

Additionally, a clean-shaven appearance is often seen as more professional. Police officers are expected to conduct themselves in a certain way, and their appearance is part of that image. Being clean-shaven can help officers project an image of discipline, authority, and professionalism.

Safety and Practicality Concerns

Another reason why many departments require officers to be clean-shaven is for safety and practicality reasons. Officers who have beards or other facial hair may have difficulty getting a proper seal on gas masks or other respiratory equipment. This can be especially dangerous in situations where there is a risk of exposure to chemicals or other substances.

Additionally, beards and mustaches can be a liability in hand-to-hand combat situations. An attacker could easily grab and pull on an officer’s facial hair, compromising their ability to defend themselves.

Rules and Regulations for Police Officers’ Facial Hair

Most police departments have specific rules and regulations when it comes to facial hair. These rules may be set at the federal or state level, or they may be specific to each individual department.

Federal and State-Level Guidelines

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued guidelines that prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion when it comes to facial hair. This means that departments cannot discriminate against officers who have religious reasons for wearing beards or other facial hair.

Some states also have laws that address facial hair in law enforcement. For example, in California, the California Highway Patrol allows officers to have a neatly trimmed mustache, but prohibits beards.

Department-Specific Policies

In addition to federal and state-level guidelines, most departments have specific policies that address facial hair. These policies can vary widely from department to department. Some departments may allow officers to have neatly trimmed mustaches, while others may require officers to be completely clean-shaven.

Exceptions and Accommodations for Beards

Despite strict grooming standards, there are some exceptions and accommodations that police departments may make when it comes to facial hair. These exceptions are often based on religious or medical reasons.

Religious and Cultural Considerations

Under the EEOC guidelines, police departments must make reasonable accommodations for officers who have religious or cultural reasons for wearing beards or other facial hair. For example, a Sikh officer who wears a beard for religious reasons cannot be required to shave it off.

Medical Exemptions

Police departments may also make accommodations for officers who cannot shave due to medical reasons. For example, an officer who has a skin condition that makes shaving painful or dangerous may be allowed to wear a neatly trimmed beard.

The Debate Over Beards in Law Enforcement

Despite these exceptions and accommodations, the debate over facial hair in law enforcement continues. Some argue that beards can be professional and can even help officers build rapport with the community.

Arguments for Allowing Beards

Those who argue for allowing beards point out that they can be a way for officers to connect with the community. Facial hair can be a conversation starter and can help to humanize officers who might otherwise be seen as distant or aloof. Additionally, some argue that beards can be a way for officers to express their individuality while still adhering to strict grooming standards.

Arguments Against Allowing Beards

On the other hand, those who argue against allowing beards point out that they can make it harder for officers to be easily recognized. Additionally, there are concerns about safety and hygiene. Beards can harbor dirt and germs, and can interfere with gas masks and other respiratory equipment.


So, can cops have beards? The answer is…it depends. While most departments require officers to be clean-shaven, there are exceptions and accommodations that can be made for religious or medical reasons.

Overall, the issue of facial hair in law enforcement is a complicated one. While there are valid concerns about professionalism, safety, and practicality, there are also arguments for allowing officers to express their individuality and connect with the community. Ultimately, each department must weigh these competing concerns and make a decision that is in the best interest of their officers and the public they serve.


Caffeinated Beard Enthusiast, Family Man & Dog Lover. Hailing from the picturesque landscapes of Salt Lake City, Utah, Todd Harris is a devoted husband, loving father, and proud dog owner with a passion for all things coffee and facial hair. His dynamic personality and unmistakable love for life are evident in each of his engaging blog posts.