If you are thinking that Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey is looking a little different these days, don't adjust your eyes or glasses.
For the first time in his 30-year professional career, Lacey is sporting a beard — and the unexpected facial hair is helping to raise awareness and support children as part of No-Shave November, an annual fundraiser that the Westerly police union, Local #503 of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, and members of the Stonington Police Department are using to help support local children.
The local departments are among hundreds of law enforcement agencies nationwide who are taking part in No-Shave November.
"It definitely feels a bit different," Lacey said with a laugh last week. "I haven't had one of these since college, but how can you say no when it's for a good cause?"
According to the Matthew Hill Foundation's no-shave.org website, the donations support hundreds of cancer research and treatment facilities. "The goal of No-Shave November is to grow awareness by embracing our hair, which many cancer patients lose, and letting it grow wild and free," the site states. "Donate the money you typically spend on shaving and grooming to educate about cancer prevention, save lives, and aid those fighting the battle."
Westerly and Stonington both joined the fundraising effort in 2018.
Westerly Patrolman Anthony Alicchio, who serves as president of the Westerly police union, said that about 25 people took part last year. The union raised approximately $2,000 which was split equally between the St. Jude's Children's Hospital and the Nick Vuono Scholarship Fund, which provides college scholarships to Westerly High School seniors.
Around 30 members of the union pay $30 each, or $1 per day, to forgo shaving for a month, Alicchio said. That money and any additional donations will go toward the same two causes and will once again be evenly divided.
Alicchio credited Lacey for allowing officers to participate and said that union members joked that as chief he should lead the charge. Lacey didn't even pause, Alicchio said, and immediately paid the fee and agreed to give it a try.
"This is a good cause and the chief has been great supporting us as we do it again," Alicchio said. "It's not just about not shaving, it's something that boosts morale and helps us do what it is we all signed up to do, which is serve the community."
In Stonington, Detective Greg Howard said the department had as many participants as they could have hoped for. More than 30 members of the Stonington police union are taking part and growing beards (or offering donations in the case of some of the women), while several staff members not in the union have "paid in" to join as well, he said.
Howard, who spoke on behalf of the union, said that because of odd circumstances this year, the union has not yet been able to vote on approving funds to be donated. He said that the department plans to donate an estimated $500 on behalf of those taking part, however, and the amount could continue to grow as officers seek separate donations from union members and the general public.
In addition to patrol officers, Police Chief J. Darren Stewart and Capt. Todd Olson are each growing their own facial hair as a sign of support for the officers and their charitable cause.
"We are committed to doing whatever we can to help. All the money we receive will go to the Connecticut Cancer Foundation to help children and families to support cancer treatment, travel, lost income and more," Howard said. "We had amazing support last year and were able to raise just about $3,000. We hope to do at least that again this year."
Town of Groton and Groton City police are also taking part in the fundraising effort, along with dozens of other agencies throughout the state, and are part of a friendly competition designed to motivate officers to raise additional money.
The effort is coordinated through the Connecticut Cancer Foundation and includes individuals and teams. It raised over $100,000 in 2018 and is seeking to surpass that level in 2019.
"When it comes down to it, it's a simple act and it supports a very good cause," Lacey said.