Law enforcement officers are almost always required to be cleanly shaven.
That means no beards, no mustaches, no goatees and no sideburns. It’s part of the look that is a standard in St. Tammany Parish and beyond.
But this month, police officers get to “let their hair down” as part of No-Shave November. If you’ve visited with a male officer in the past few weeks, there’s a good chance he might have sported stubble on his chin or even had time for a full beard.
Police departments across the north shore are participating in the national campaign that is designed to raise awareness of cancers that particularly affect men, and the idea of growing facial hair gives a nod to those who often lose their hair during cancer treatments.
No-Shave November, of course, follows the much more widely known events that take place each October during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Police departments, overwhelmingly male in numbers of patrolling officers, use the opportunity not only as a fundraiser and awareness campaign, but also as a team-building event.
They joke about how some of their beards never grow in completely, and how some have more gray hairs than others.
“A lot of this is about camaraderie,” said Mandeville Training Officer Eddie Vanison. “Everyone has fun with it, joking about who can grow hair and who can’t. It’s in good fun, and it’s for a good cause.”
Much like other departments around the parish, interested Mandeville officers plunked down $20 or so to participate in the fundraiser. They’ve encouraged others in the community to participate as well, and when the month is up, they’ll donate all money to a nonprofit group that focuses on cancer causes.
Mandeville officer Dominic Falati isn’t used to wearing a beard, and he’s not the only one acclimating to it.
“The kids complain it’s itchy, and my wife doesn’t like it,” Falati said.
Still, Falati and other officers around the parish are gladly taking part in No-Shave November. In Slidell, officers actually got a head start.
Slidell Police Chief Randy Fandal allowed his men to begin growing beards in October. A special collection that month helped pay for the wedding of Lt. Ray Dupuy’s daughter. Dupuy died in a vehicular accident in September.
With an extra month of growing time, many of the participating SPD officers have full-fledged beards. Fandal hinted he may allow the officers to wear the beards through hunting season (in January) if they’d like to pledge a few more dollars to support the cause.
Fandal said money the officers raise, as well as money the public raises if they join the No-Shave November challenge, will go to the Slidell Memorial Hospital Cancer Center.
The SPD raised about $2,000 in-house and from the public last year.
Fandal said several officers have asked him about allowing beards throughout the year and are willing to pay for the privilege. The chief said has no plans to change uniform policy, and officer Craig Aucoin said he’s not disappointed, noting that October and November likely will be enough of the beard for him.
“My wife loves (the beard) and she wishes I (wore) it the whole time,” Aucoin said. “Two months out of the year it’s cool, but the rest of the time? It’s so hot you’d be miserable!”
Statistics show that men are much less likely than women to talk about health concerns, especially when it comes to topics such as prostate cancer. But Fandal said bringing men’s health issues to the forefront is critical.
“I think everyone has been touched by cancer in some way,” he said. “This is a self-awareness thing, but it brings attention to the problem.”
Covington officer Patrick Sanders agreed. He’s growing a Van Dyke style beard (with both mustache and goatee in place) until the end of No-Shave November. Sanders said cancer runs in his family, and the campaign is a way to remind people that awareness is vital to everyone.
Sanders admitted his beard isn’t growing as fast as some of his CPD partners, but he takes their ribbing in stride.
“There’s a bit of competition to it, and I’m probably in dead last right now,” he said with a laugh. “But this is a good way to give back and get people talking about some things that are important.”