If you happen to see a Harrisburg police officer on the evening news or out on the street, you may notice that he seems a little—well—hairier than usual.
There’s a good reason why members of the force are giving their razors a rest and turning their faces into blankets of fur.
About 40 of the bureau’s 135 officers have given up shaving for more than two months to raise money for—and boost awareness of—the city’s hungry and homeless, according to Blake Lynch, the department’s community policing coordinator.
By paying $30 each, male officers are permitted to defy traditional orders and grow their beards for November, December and the first week of January. Participating female officers are allowed to color their hair and wear make-up and colored nail polish.
Money raised is donated to Downtown Daily Bread, the mission associated with the Pine Street Presbyterian Church, which has cared for the hungry and homeless since 1983.
Cpl. Josh Hammer, sporting a sandy blonde, Bradley Cooper-esque beard, said that his sons don’t seem to notice the extra facial fuzz, but his wife Angie, a West Shore salon owner, sure does. City residents do, too, since they’re accustomed to their officers being clean-shaven.
Hammer said the beards have boosted morale and provoked a healthy dose of light-hearted male ribbing and bonding on the force. But they also have raised awareness of a more sobering message.
“Going into so many houses, we see it all,” he said. “We see people who are really struggling.”
Hammer and Lynch reflected somberly on several recent tragic events, such as the young teen killed in a car crash at 25th and Brookwood streets on the Swatara Township-Harrisburg city line. Lynch helped plan a funeral, connected the family with grief counselors, communicated with another mom staying 24-7 in the hospital with her critically wounded son, crafted public statements on their behalf, and helped keep food on the table when the families could not work due to the incident.
Over the years, police officers have also assembled and delivered baskets of fresh food at Thanksgiving. They have helped job-seekers tie their neckties before job interviews, bought food anonymously for needy families, hosted National Night Out events and stopped at child care centers to let the little ones push the buttons inside the police cars to activate the lights and sirens.
“Our goal is to protect and serve,” Lynch said. “This is just one more opportunity to serve.”
The beard-growing venture is more than a fundraiser for the church-based charity located in the shadow of the expansive marble-floored and mahogany-walled Capitol. It’s a spirited competition among colleagues. The winner of “Best Beard” wins a plaque, a trimmer, and, of course, bragging rights.
Contestants must take a photograph of their beard only—no dazzling white smiles or distinctive facial features to skew the results. Last year’s winner, Officer Bath, is participating again, so he is clearly the beard to beat.
With the start of the new year, the beards may be unceremoniously washed down the sink, but the spirit of giving will not. Officers must show up clean-shaven on Jan. 7 or the disciplinary write-ups for facial hair will fly anew.
But until then, the force will continue to channel their inner lumberjack, hipster or Jason Kelce and compare their beards to each other’s as a true measure of machismo.
“This is an opportunity for people to really be part of something bigger than themselves,” Lynch said. “Our officers do that every single day. We are not just collecting a paycheck. We do it because we care.”