Walker County Sheriff Nick Smith hasn't convinced his employees that being clean-shaven is a requirement for cleaning up the county.Sheriff's Office employees launched a "Beards for Babies" …
Walker County Sheriff Nick Smith hasn't convinced his employees that being clean-shaven is a requirement for cleaning up the county.
Sheriff's Office employees launched a "Beards for Babies" fundraising campaign in February to earn the right to regrow their facial hair. All donations benefit the Walker County Children's Advocacy Center (CAC).
Smith did not endear himself to employees when he implemented a no-beards policy shortly after taking office.
Beards have been a growing fashion trend of the past decade, becoming so popular that CNN reported in 2018 that razor and blade sales in the United States had slipped for three years in a row.
Approximately half of the department had beards before the policy was written.
The new policy mirrors those in effect at other local law enforcement agencies, which allow mustaches but no hair below the corners of the mouth. It applies to all sworn, uniformed personnel.
The beard ban was part of a uniform policy meant to bring uniformity to employees' appearance and to signal a fresh start.
"The way he described it to me is that this is a way to show that everybody is starting from the same place and what you do from here determines your place in the department," said Nick Key, director of operations.
Key, who helped write the policy, had to shave the beard he had groomed for over two years and was among those who waited until the Sunday night before the policy began to dust off his razor.
Though everyone cooperated with the new rule, jokes about the missing beards went on until Smith pitched the idea of raising $5,000 for the CAC in order to roll back the policy.
The CAC, which opened in 2013, is a local nonprofit that serves child victims of physical and sexual abuse and neglect. It provides a child-friendly environment where victims can be interviewed by a trained professional, reducing the number of times that the child must endure the trauma that goes along with reliving the experience for an interview.
Among the other services offered by the CAC are referrals for specialized medical exams and mental health services and counseling for victims and non-offending family members.
Key said the importance of the CAC's work cannot be overstated.
"It is one of the most important tools in Walker County for law enforcement. If it wasn't for them, we'd have to drive to Birmingham. The kids would be in an unfamiliar place, and we'd have to wait days for the interview. Here, they're taken to a space designed to make them feel comfortable, and that's how we solve the cases that we solve," Key said.
Key established a GoFundMe page that has collected $845 so far for the cause. Those funds go directly to the CAC.
Additional monetary donations that have been delivered to the Sheriff's Department have brought the total closer to $1,600.
The Barn 5.0 in Jasper is donating a portion of its sales today to Beards for Babies.
The fundraiser will continue until $5,000 has been collected.
"The beards are secondary, of course. The main thing is to get the CAC some funding. This was just a fun way to involve the deputies and get the community involved in doing some good for our county," Key said.
Future fundraisers will be organized to benefit the CAC and other worthy causes, he added.