New York City has an increasing number of members of the Sikh population, and some of them are eager to join the New York Police Department (NYPD). The thing that’s stopping them is the present ban on wearing turbans and long beards.
But the regulation will soon be changed. The NYPD is extending goodwill to the Sikh community by allowing police officers that are Sikh members to wear their blue turbans and wear beards. This was announced Wednesday by Commissioner James O’Neill of the NYPD after the graduation ceremony at the police academy.
In place of traditional caps
Sikh police officers will now be allowed to wear their turbans while on duty instead of the police cap, which is traditionally part of the officer’s uniform. The turbans should be navy blue in color in keeping with the regulation police uniform. Turbans must also have the NYPD insignia. Previously, Sikhs were only able to wear a small head covering called a patka that must fit under the official police cap.
Because long beards get in the way when police officers need to wear gas masks, long beards were forbidden. The commissioner announced that the department would allow Sikh officers to grow half-inch beards in keeping with their religious tradition. However, approval from their commanding officer is required. Commissioner O’Neill added that he hopes this change in their regulation will encourage more applications to the police force from different ethnicities.
If this becomes an official policy, the NYPD will be joining other cities’ police departments, such as Riverside in California and Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Army that are allowing their ranks to wear beards and turbans. On the other side of the border, the Muslim Mounties of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are allowed to wear their hijabs. The new policies of the NYPD will still require police officers to get religious exemption from top officials in their department.
The NYPD’s change in policy sends out a strong message that Sikhs are also an important part of the U.S. population. It is estimated that 500,000 to about a million Sikhs are living in the United States and many of them are in New York City and two other states close to New York. Around 160 Sikhs are currently employed by the NYPD.
The accommodation for wearing a full turban and facial hair is not yet across the board. Only about a dozen police departments in the entire United States allow Sikh police officers to follow the practice of wearing beards and turban. The officers of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) still want approval for Sikh police officers to wear full beards. Likewise, the Sikh community is waiting for the official written policy about the changes and the full implementation of the policy.
In January 2017, the NYPD will be offering a police academy entrance exam, designed to encourage more people from different backgrounds to join the biggest police force in the country.