By Arul Louis
New York: The New York Police Department (NYPD) will now allow Sikh officers to wear turbans and beards marking another milestone for members of the religion to wear the symbols of the faith in security jobs.
Announcing the change in uniform policy on Wednesday, City Police Commissioner James O’Neill said: “We want to make the NYPD as diverse as possible.”
Welcoming the new policy, Sikh Officers Association tweeted, “This is a proud moment for Sikh Community.
O’Neill estimated that there are about 160 Sikhs in the 34,500-strong force of the city of 8.5 million people.
Till now Sikh NY police were allowed to wear only a small head covering, the patka, under their regulation hats or caps.
“We’ve been working with the Sikh officers to try to make sure we get this done,” O’Neill said after a ceremony for graduating class of the police academy. “I had the opportunity to make the change and I thought it was about time that we did that.”
He was accompanied by a group of Sikh officers wearing blue turbans with the NYPD badges.
Two Sikhs, who were among the 557 graduates, had earlier been given permission to keep their beards but not their turbans.
In April, the US Army expanded its policy of permitting Sikh personnel to wear turbans, although it was in the nature of a waiver rather than a policy change. It restricts the wearing of turbans and beards to non-hazardous jobs.
The US Army is facing a lawsuit by a soldier alleging the ban on turbans amounted to religious discrimination.
Some other police departments, including Washington, allow their police wear turbans.
The beard policy has a significant restriction: It has to be less than half-an-inch. This change in NYPD policy on bears may also allow Muslims to keep their beards, although one of them has filed a case saying that they should be allowed to have two-inch beard because of their religious rules.
In 2012, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) which runs the city’s metro and buses allowed Sikhs to wear turbans without the agency’s medallion everywhere on the job settling a case against it by the Sikh Coalition and the federal government.
The MTA also agreed to pay $184,500 to eight current or former employees who had objected to wearing the MTA symbol on their turbans claiming it violated their religious beliefs.
However, New York police officers will be required to wear on their turbans the police badges — similar to that sported by Indian police and defence forces members — and so far Sikh officers have not objected to it.