St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell has put away his razor. Now officers can, too.
The department announced Wednesday that it’s loosening personal grooming restrictions for sworn officers, which long banned the faintest trace of a 5 o’clock shadow.
Although Axtell previously opposed the idea of police beards, rank-and-file staff requesting the change persuaded him to reconsider.
“I believe it is important to listen to our workforce, change with the times and allow our officers’ personal style to shine through whenever possible,” Axtell wrote in an internal memo. “After all, we are all unique human beings, just like the people we serve.”
St. Paul Police Federation President Paul Kuntz applauded the decision, saying it allows more freedom of expression. A no-beard policy ruled all 21 years he’s been on the force, he said.
“A lot of it falls on tradition,” Kuntz said of long-held appearance standards. “Some folks thought [beards] lack professionalism.”
Minneapolis police made a similar switch to their grooming guidelines last spring. Chief Medaria Arradondo agreed to allow department personnel to wear “neatly trimmed and groomed” beards and goatees on a trial basis after requests from officers who pointed to changing social norms.
The policy was formalized this year, and dozens of officers have since taken advantage of it, said spokesman John Elder.
In St. Paul, certain shaving restrictions still exist. Beards, goatees and sideburns must be uniform in appearance and not exceed ¾ of an inch in length, according to department guidelines. Members of the Honor Guard are required to be clean-shaven while performing official duties, and facial hair is not allowed for SWAT team members, so that their gas masks fit securely.
Top brass also reserves the right to temporarily prohibit beards and goatees during special events.
The move puts St. Paul in line with other police agencies around the country that have become more forgiving of tattoos and piercings — once considered taboo in law enforcement — as they try to attract younger recruits.
“The profession, both here in Minnesota and around the country, is in a hiring crisis,” said Andy Skoogman, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association. As departments pursue the next generation of officers, Skoogman expects more chiefs to lean on “policy changes that don’t lower professional standards but do increase the number of younger applicants … and help retain them.”
On Thursday, Axtell posted a photo of himself on Facebook sporting scruff. It’s the first time he’s grown a beard in his professional career.
“Officers are more relatable when they are themselves,” he told the Star Tribune, “and they are more likely to be themselves if they feel comfortable with the way they look.”