Police Appearance Policy Raises Racial Issues

Professional appearance policy for the Baltimore Police Department is an article I found on nappyme which opens up our current issues of race in the United States.

BALTIMORE — The WBAL TV 11 News I-Team has obtained a new professional appearance policy for the Baltimore Police Department intended to promote a professional image, but it’s also raising questions of racial insensitivity. The new policy is more specific than the old one. For example, tattoos must now be kept covered. However, the questions surround an issue that’s been batted around the courts and company workplace policies for several years — hairstyle. “We just felt that over the years, some officers have taken advantage of the old general order and are not presenting themselves, while in uniform to the public, in the most professional manner possible,” said Matt Jablow, spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department. Like the old policy, the new one governs hair length, jewelry, mustaches and beards, but it also added a new standard — extreme, or “fad,” hairstyles are prohibited, including cornrows, mohawks, dreadlocks, and twists.

Three of the four hairstyles banned are almost exclusively used by blacks. “I think it’s incredibly insensitive,” said Taunya Banks, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law. “I’m really kind of concerned about labeling as faddish a practice that’s not faddish at all, and what appears to be a targeting of black officers.” Banks said the policy seems to ignore the differences in hair texture between blacks and whites and may affect black female officers more than men. “What they’re saying to a woman is either she has to wear her hair short in an Afro, which is no longer stylish, or she’s going to have to chemically straighten her hair,” she said. “We do not think it’s racially insensitive. It’s not intended to be racially insensitive,” Jablow said. Department officials said they consulted with the Black Officers’ Organization in forming the policy. It will go into effect on Jan. 1, the same time as Baltimore swears in its first female black mayor. Sheila Dixon said Tuesday she’s aware of the new policy and supports it. “I think there is an appropriateness one needs to have, and if that’s the policy of the police department, then one has to come in compliance,” Dixon said. Earlier this year, 11 News reported that there’s less diversity in the leadership ranks of the police department now than 10 years ago. Deputy major is the highest rank held by a black woman in the department, and only two women hold that position.

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