Sgt. Howard Bowen once sported close-cropped brown hair that fit his law enforcement persona as tightly as his uniform, badge and gun.
These days, the Pendleton police sergeant’s hair is about seven inches long. It hangs to his collar, defying hair spray, mousse or gel to control it. Before he lets anyone near with scissors, however, he plans to grow his hair to a length of 10 inches, long enough for a ponytail.
Bowen isn’t the only one at the Pendleton Police Department to go shaggy.
Eight Pendleton officers and two police assistants pledged to grow their hair for Locks of Love, a nonprofit organization that provides fitted hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children suffering hair loss because of cancer or alopecia. They launched their project August 2 at National Night Out.
Nine months later, they are getting some lingering sideways looks from people they stop for traffic violations. Officer Nathan Bessette has morphed into a surfer dude, at least from the neck up. School Resource Officer Glenn Hamby sports a curly mane, reminiscent of Art Garfunkel in the 70s.
“The kids want to touch it,” said Hamby, who spends time inside Pendleton schools interacting with students.
Lauren Boothby, communications director at the Florida-based Locks of Love, said the Pendleton Police Department is the only one she knows of that has participated by growing their hair en masse.
“We’ve had other police departments help Locks of Love through various events and fundraisers,” Boothby said, “but we couldn’t find any others in our database who actually donated their hair.”
The idea had germinated in Bowen’s brain after a shopping trip where he noticed a little girl with no hair. Bowen saw curiosity and standoffishness from other children whose eyes telegraphed, “What’s wrong with her?”
“The little girl kept her chin high through the whole thing,” Bowen said.
The sergeant had two major hurdles in getting his idea to fly — first, selling it to Chief Stuart Roberts and then getting his brothers and sisters in blue on board. Before approaching Roberts, Bowen prepared a 20-minute speech. He laid out the pros and addressed the cons, including a perceived lack of professionalism and safety concerns such as criminals being able to grab longer hair more easily. A few minutes into Bowen’s presentation, Roberts broke in.
“That’s great,” he said. “Let’s do it.”
Being follicly challenged, the chief wouldn’t join in, but Bowen was free to set about convincing the rest of the force. When he showed them photos of recipients on the Locks of Love website, they folded. Besides Bowen, Hamby and Bessette, Officers Ryan Lehnert, Jon Lehman and Jon Roberts, Cpl. Roger Youncs and Detective Brandon Gomez and police assistants Dianna Anderson and Kris Kauffman signed on.
Anderson said everyone respected Bowen’s passion for the project though she admits everyone’s resolve periodically wavers.
“At one point or another, all of us have voiced frustration about what to do with our hair,” she said.
Hamby said his wife experimented with straightening his curly mop with a flat iron.
“I looked like Rod Stewart,” he said.
One officer, Jon Roberts, eventually cut his hair because of his upcoming wedding. His two daughters insisted, saying they didn’t want him shaggy for the ceremony, but volunteered to grow their hair in his place. Other family members, including the chief’s mother, also joined the effort.
They are about halfway through their hairy adventure. They will go en masse for haircuts when the person with the slowest-growing hair — currently Youncs — reaches 10 inches.
Contact Kathy Aney at email@example.com or 541-966-0810.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.