THE New York Police Department on Wednesday announced that it would allow Sikh officers to wear beards and blue turbans.
Before this policy change, Sikh officers were only allowed to wear a “patka” beneath their official police cap.
This decision is bound to have a tremendous effect on the policies of police departments across the U.S. Only about a half dozen police forces across the US have explicit accommodations to allow for Sikhs to serve with a turban and beard.
The New York Times reported that according to the NYPD patrol guide, officers are prohibited from having beards and non-uniform headdresses, but exceptions can be made for officers who receive a medical or religious accommodation to wear facial hair up to one millimeter in length.
Commissioner James P. O’Neill said that now officers who are granted a religious accommodation from the department’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office will be allowed to have beards that extend up to one-half inch from the face.
The department agreed to review its beard guidelines after a Muslim officer filed a federal class-action lawsuit in June. That case is pending.
O’Neil said: “We want to make the NYPD as diverse as possible, and I think this is going to go a long way to help us with that. It’s a major change in our uniform policy, so we had to go about it carefully. And now I have the opportunity to make the change, and I thought it was about time that we did that.”
According to the New York Times, the Muslim Officers Society and the Sikh Officers Association, which have more than 1,100 members combined, had been pressuring the department for the change.
The Sikh Officers Association tweeted: “Thank you @NYPDONeill for allowing Sikh Officers to wear a turban in the @NYPDnews. This is a proud moment for Sikh Community.”
Officer Gurvinder Singh, President of the Sikh Officers Association, which has about 150 members, told the newspaper that he expected more Sikh candidates to take the police exam in January and said that he had received phone calls from religious and community leaders after the announcement.
“It’s a win for the officers but also the community members who will reap the benefits of a more diverse police force patrolling their neighborhoods,” Hardayal Singh, Executive Director of the United Sikhs organization said. “While we are undoubtedly celebrating the welcome move to allow turbans we will not be satisfied until the NYPD and other forces across the country make appropriate changes to the policy on facial hair. The Sikh religion forbids cutting or shaving any bodily hair; until Sikhs can serve without any of their articles of faith being called into question we will keep pushing the NYPD and other forces to make the necessary accommodations.”