The Prince George's County Police Department began enforcing grooming standards for all officers in order to follow Center for Disease Control Guidelines. There are now 25 officers on leave because they are unable to abide by the rules due to skin conditions.
The standards were put in place to ensure that police officers can properly wear face masks, specifically N95 masks. However, some of the individuals on leave say the policy discriminates against black officers.
"It absolutely is discriminatory against black police officers because we're the majority who suffer from skin related diseases, as it relates to shaving close to the skin," said one Prince George's police officer who asked to remain anonymous.
The Prince George's County Police Department released a statement about the new policy.
“After consulting with the Health Officer for Prince George’s County, we made the decision to temporarily suspend our beard policy in order to help prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 in our community.”
The Prince George's County Health Director recommended the officers who couldn't shave due to skin conditions be placed on leave.
"I asked the chief to suspend officers having beards based on the CDC guidelines that were handed down regarding facial beards," Health Director Dr. Ernest Carter said.
He added that according to the CDC, beards and even stubble, can prevent N95 masks from fitting properly allowing germs in and out. He said this change in policy is about safety not discrimination.
"For the safety and well being of the officer, their family and the community, they need to be clean shaven around where the mask is fitted," Carter said. "Of course I understand that some men have skin issues from shaving. I understand I've had issues also, so I had to recommend those officers be granted leave."
Officers say even though they're on paid leave, the time off is costing them.
"Over time is out. Secondary employment is out also, which is also taking money out of the pockets of police officers."
Prince George's County Police Chief Hank Stawinski decided to allow officers to wear beards about a year ago. The department is saying this is a temporary change, and once they no longer have to wear masks, officers can go back to wearing full beards.