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'Coolio-style hair': LAPD union official's column sparks backlash and debate

Libor Jany, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Hours into a standoff with a barricaded suspect in northeast Los Angeles earlier this year, a Black officer said he was cornered by a white lieutenant who berated him for sporting a beard that was longer than permitted by LAPD regulations.

"This department is accepting anything now," the lieutenant said, according to a complaint filed in the case. The officer who reported the incident declined to comment and asked that his name be withheld, citing fear of retaliation within the department.

The officer explained in his complaint that he had been granted a medical exemption to grow facial hair, but the lieutenant's rant continued until another supervisor stepped in. The officer said the April 23 episode was humiliating and left him feeling no longer "included or accepted in the LAPD."

Shaving is painful, the officer said. He was diagnosed with pseudofolliculitis barbae, or PFB, a skin condition that disproportionately affects Black men, causing blemishes and acne-like bumps that can scar or bleed.

The incident touched a nerve among some Black officers on the force, who described their own brushes with racial discrimination because of beards or the way they styled their hair. Some of those concerns resurfaced last month after a high-ranking police union official wrote a column accusing the department of lowering its standards on beards and allowing officers to have "Coolio-style hair," referring to the late rapper who sported trademark twists.

Jamie McBride, a board member of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, wrote that while making the rounds at police stations around the city during recent contract negotiations, he noticed numerous officers with beards or the "craziest hairstyles" that didn't adhere to the department's on-duty grooming standards.

 

One officer "looked like he was going to a Bob Marley concert," with long braids "running down past his collar and then folded up," McBride wrote.

The officer needed a "female hairband to keep his hair out of his face," he wrote. McBride also noted the presence of a female captain whose hair sits "high on top of her head it looks more like a hat in search of a propeller," in such a way that she couldn't properly wear a department-issued hat.

The captain attends recruit graduation ceremonies and other department functions, McBride wrote, "so it is clear that Chief Moore and the entire command staff are well aware of this."

"Wearing a beard while in uniform looks shoddy and unprofessional, and it is disrespectful of every LAPD officer who has and still does wear this uniform," McBride wrote. He noted that some officers have medical or religious exemptions that allow beards, but said: "To be honest, I'm not buying it."

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