The annual Shop with a Cop program will have a different look this winter, one that would make both Santa and Willie Robertson proud.
Embracing the rising popularity of beard culture, LaFayette police chief Benji Clift decided to suspend the departmental grooming standards in return for officers’ donations toward the program.
“The economic downturn hit us as far as the donations for the program,” Clift said. “So I thought we would try something different.”
Grooming standards for law enforcement are one of the longest running traditions, and are similar to military protocols of rank and discipline, he said.
This year’s fundraiser — “Hair for the Holidays” — allows officers to sport facial hair in exchange for a weekly contribution to Shop with a Cop .
The chief said the idea came from another law enforcement official during a leadership class in 2010.
“We’ve got different guys who’ve grown goatees and beards.” Clift said. “I am the only one who is letting his hair grow out. I figured I would lead by example and just not cut anything.”
The program is proving popular with police and public alike.
“We’ve gotten a great response from the community,” Clift said “A lot of people were curious about why we have been doing it.”
This follicly challenging fundraiser is projected to surpass its original $800 goal in contributions by 19 officers.
This battle of the beards began Oct. 1, when officers with moustaches broke out the shaving cream for a uniform starting point.
Detective Wesley Steele had not been without a moustache since the 1980s, Clift said.
“Some of the younger guys were worried that they couldn’t grow facial hair fast enough,” he said.
But to varying degrees, the department has become a whiskered wonderland for the holidays.
Clift jokes that officer Nick Terry’s ginger chin fuzz resembles that of a jolly Christmas character…. not a young Kris Kringle, but rather Yukon Kornelius from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
The chief also believes that Randy Hicks’ vast expertise in moustache maintenance is beginning to develop a similarity with “The Lorax” character.
It is the first time Clift has grown facial hair, and he had maintained a military-style “crew cut” or ‘high and tight” since his teenage days.
After nearly two months of avoiding the razor, he now bears a bit of a resemblance to the famous portrait of Ernest Hemmingway, as his salt-and-pepper beard has hints of a salty dog from the high seas instead of his clean-cut persona as police chief.
The beards will remain through the end of the year, when each officer will have to return to their daily razor routine.
The Shop with a Cop charity program began nine years ago, serving a handful of children when it began, and has grown to provide approximately $200 in gifts for 40 underprivileged children in LaFayette each year.
School resource office Billy Mullis has overseen the program for the last few years.
Officers are expanding the program to include a gift for each of the 80 students in the South Walker Head Start program.