Minn. agency removes restrictions on beards, tattoos

"A lot of the officers wanted to have beards, and as an administrator, I'm just trying to change with the times," said New Ulm Police Chief Dave Borchert

Renee Berg
The Free Press

MANKATO, Minn. — Just in time for Movember when growing facial hair for cancer awareness is popular, the New Ulm Police Department is allowing officers to have beards.

The agency was one of the last police department holdouts in the region to not allow facial hair, insiders say.

"Historically beards were pretty much prohibited everywhere, and it was one of those situations where we were a little bit concerned primarily with being able to properly seal N95 masks and gas masks," New Ulm Police Chief Dave Borchert said. "And because we wear uniforms, there was always an expectation that you be cleanly shaven.

"That's changed in the last 25 years as far as that standard. That's the background of why we kept it in place. I had recently been at a regional meeting with the nine-county area, and we were the last department that wasn't allowing beards. There was a major push from our officers over the last 4 1/2 years. They really wanted to have beards permitted."

The appearance policy covering beards for police officers has been in place for decades. It was changed Oct. 4 during the New Ulm City Council meeting with a unanimous vote.

Borchert said the policy was changed "to reflect the wishes of the officers. A lot of the officers wanted to have beards, and as an administrator, I'm just trying to change with the times." He said a handful of officers are now growing beards.

The New Ulm City Council also, as part of reviewing the police department's appearance policy, relaxed rules on tattoos. Tattoos are now allowed to be visible, if approved by Borchert.

Tattoos can't be visible on the face, head and neck. And visible tattoos can't contain profanity, nudity, racial slurs, gang references or offensive language. "That's my policy," Borchert said.

Throughout the region, police and sheriff's departments widely allow beards.

"We do allow it, and we have for quite some time," said Dave Lange, Nicollet County sheriff. "It used to be, years ago, that they needed to be clean shaven, but we've loosened up those requirements. As long as they're trimmed up and looking clean."

Eagle Lake Police Department Chief John Kopp echoed Lange's sentiments, saying they've allowed beards for 20 years or more and haven't had any issues with the policy.

"I've been chief for almost 12 years and it hasn't been an issue," Kopp said, "for as long as I've been chief. It's always been OK if they don't look real unkempt."

Police officers in Waseca are allowed to have neatly groomed beards. Penny Vought, public safety director, said their policy allowing beards is "pretty common."

The city of Mankato does not have a policy related to beards. The Le Sueur Police Department is the only known area police department restricting beards and facial hair.

"We do not allow beards," said Le Sueur Police Chief Aaron Thieke. "Our appearance standards are for no facial hair except for a trimmed mustache and sideburns that don't go past the earlobe." As for the policy, he said officers are "fine with it."

"That's what our policy is," Thieke said. "It's that officers have to appear professional. They have to project a professional image that's appropriate for the police department."

In Sleepy Eye, beards and neatly trimmed goatees are allowed. There Police Chief Matt Andres said it helps with community rapport for officers to have facial hair and be more approachable.

"The stiff old style, with shaved heads or crew cuts, seems almost imposing," Andres said. "We want them to look like everyday citizens. We try to be like everybody else."

Lange said along with relaxing policies prohibiting facial hair, so too has his department relaxed standards related to police officers having visible tattoos. Whereas once tattoos were not allowed, not too long ago the department determined that they would allow officers to have tats.

"We had a tattoo policy in place too, but we're finding, as a society, and looking at the people we're hiring, so many have tattoos," he said. "Back when I started, the rule was no visible tattoos, but we've relaxed on that too as long as they're not offensive in nature. We do allow those to be visible but in prior years, visible tattoos had to be covered up."


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