HPD officers sue over grooming policy

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One of Chief Hurtt’s big priorities upon arriving in Houston — a policy banning facial hair on officers — has resulted in a lawsuit against HPD and the city, according to the Chronicle‘s Cindy George:

Four Houston police officers placed on plain-clothes duty for wearing facial hair have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming discrimination for a skin condition that primarily affects black men.

Sgts. Shelby Stewart and Kenneth Perkins said they wear goatees because they suffer from pseudofolliculitis barbae, a dermatological condition common among men of African descent. Shaving can cause severe irritation, rashes and ingrown hairs. Stewart and Perkins, who are not allowed to work in uniform and have been reassigned, estimated that more than 100 HPD officers have the condition.

The lawsuit, which was also filed Tuesday by officers Adrian White and Raul Collins, claims the Houston Police Department is enforcing only the part of its appearance and grooming standards that disproportionately afflicts black officers. The City of Houston also is named as a defendant.

HPD lawyer Craig Ferrell said the department adopted the standards because officers with facial hair cannot properly seal gas masks in the event of bioterrorism attacks. He said the policy was not discriminatory, but will be changed.

Police Chief Harold Hurtt will modify the rules to “accommodate as best we can” officers with skin conditions by identifying uniformed positions that can be performed with facial hair, Ferrell said.

Officers in those positions who cannot shave would be able to use an “escape masks” that can be worn over a beard.

In 2005, HPD revised its grooming policy to prohibit beards and goatees.

Given all the serious problems in the City of Houston, we never quite understood why facial hair was such a priority for Chief Hurtt. That said, we’re not entirely convinced of the merits of this lawsuit. What do you think?

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