MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Public safety departments across the country are ditching dated restrictive grooming and appearance standards. It's an effort to modernize policing with hopes of boosting morale and bolstering recruitment and retention efforts.
As of June, the City of Montgomery is part of the national trend, allowing officers and firemen to grow facial hair and show tattoos while in uniform.
Sgt. Jarrett Williams is one of many officers to quickly take advantage of the new grooming standards.
“This is a way for MPD to get a little progressive and be part of the 21st century,” Williams stated. “Now we are moving along with the times and it’s going to look different when you see officers coming in your house. They are going to have facial hair, you’re going to see some tattoos.”
The public is already catching on.
“I’ve already had three or four people come up to me and ask why I have facial hair,” explained Williams. “It’s a conversation starter with the public that wouldn’t have happened without this policy change.”
Officer Silvetta Agosto was forced to wear long sleeves to cover up her tattoos since she joined the force, despite the temperature.
“As soon as the policy came out I had my short sleeve shirt ironed ready to go,” Agosto said. “I work patrol so I’m outside almost twelve hours out of the day.”
For those sworn to protect and serve, this change makes their already difficult jobs more manageable.
“It makes the twelve hours go by faster, you aren’t constantly wiping sweat off and uncomfortable in the car,” she said.
Williams is enjoying the extra fifteen minutes every morning before heading to work. While it's an added convenience, officers aren't fully off the hook.
“You can’t let it go as far as you want it to go,” explained Williams. “We have a restriction of one inch and it has to be trimmed, make sure it’s neat and clean.”
Administrators feel the effort narrows the gap between police and the public.
“This is a step forward to look more like the community and be part the community,” he explained.
At sixteen, Agosto got her first tattoo, and now she’s up to eighteen. For her, it’s personal.
“These are my kids,” she said as she extended her right forearm. Tattoos on the left arm represented her parents and other family members.
It’s something she now shares with the public while answering calls on patrol.
“A lot of people put a lot of time and thought into their tattoos,” said Agosto. “You aren’t just seeing my uniform, you’re seeing my personality as well as my family. You aren’t dehumanizing me, you see I have someone to go home to.”
Williams believes the policy’s short but successful roll out will only make MPD more attractive. Much like other departments across the nation, MPD is working to fill 40 vacant positions.
“This is absolutely a recruitment tool for us,” he explained. “The ability to grow facial hair will attract a lot more candidates than we’ve had. Some people, that was an issue for them. Much like officers who had to wear long sleeves to cover up their tattoos in the 105 degree Alabama heat.”
The new standards also apply to Montgomery Fire/Rescue. Firefighters who wear safety masks won’t be able to grow facial hair due to safety restrictions.