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Grooming and Weight Standards for Law Enforcement: The Legal Issues

NCJ Number
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume: 63 Issue: 7 Dated: (July 1994) Pages: 27-32
W U McCormack
Date Published
6 pages
Many law enforcement agencies have policies or regulations rearding officer grooming, uniform, and dress, and officers who challenge these policies or regulations face certain constitutional and Federal statutory issues.
Since the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelley v. Johnson, courts have shown deference to grooming standards challenged on constitutional grounds. This decision ruled that the police department in question demonstrated a rational connection between its grooming regulation and personal and property safety and that the regulation did not violate due process protections. Even though courts generally give wide latitude to law enforcement agencies with respect to grooming and dress codes, they must ensure that restrictions do not violate fundamental constitutional rights. Grooming standards have generally been upheld when challenged on constitutional grounds, but certain grooming standards implicate protections provided by statutes designed to prevent race, gender, or handicapped discrimination. For example, prohibitions on beards have been challenged by black males who suffer from a medical condition called pseudofolliculitis barbae. Another challenge raised in grooming code cases involves potential gender discrimination, since men are often governed by one standard and women by another. Law enforcement agencies have maximum body weight standards for both safety and physical fitness reasons. Mandated weight standards have encountered varied court interpretations when challenged on the basis that they violate the Americans With Disabilities Act or the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The author concludes that police grooming standards will be upheld when challenged on a constitutional basis as long as there is a legitimate, nonarbitrary reason for the standards. 33 endnotes