Nov 7, 2016: The largest police force in the US is finally allowing Sikh officers to serve in uniform without cutting their beards.
In recent years, major cities in California, Texas, Illinois and Washington, DC, have allowed turbans, while New York City – which is over 40,000 officers strong – has lagged behind.
The city’s finest will now be allowed to don uncut beards, with approval for turbans soon to follow, according to Gurvinder Singh, an officer in the NYPD‘s community engagement department. Singh also leads the Sikh Officers Association.
“It took a lot of discussion and a lot of back-and-forth, and we were finally able to do it,” Singh said.
Though dialogue began with former Police Commissioner William Bratton, Singh credited new Commissioner James O’Neill with putting words into action.
Sikh Officers Association worked with New York City Department’s Equal Employment Office and Legal Bureau to allow for this new exception for Sikhs. Similar to other exceptions in the department, all officers who want to serve with beards will have to fill paperwork that will go through appropriate channels before it can get approval.
To-date, the NYPD has allowed beards for individuals who have sensitive skin, provided they obtain a doctor’s note.
Police officer Robin Alfani said this signals a significant change in policy and the department has recently been paying closer attention to religion.
Singh said he is confident that turbans will be approved by next year. The delay is due to ongoing discussions about what standard to use for tying the turban. He added that the future is bright for young Sikhs who might want to serve.
“We have different styles of turbans, we have to come up with a uniform turban that will not only fit the department needs, but also follows the Sikh faith,” he said. Singh said he has engaged a number of Sikh advocacy organizations and the US Army to find the right fit.
150 Sikhs serve in the NYPD, of whom around seven currently wear turbans. The department also recently promoted its first Sikh, Sgt. Pratima Bhullar.
The department has been previously criticized for its lack of accommodation for Sikhs and how that discouraged individuals from the community from joining.
“People who couldn’t join before will now be able to do it,” Singh said. “We’re hoping Sikhs do join. People want to see us in uniform to go out and serve our communities, you know, because we grew up here. So now we have a chance to serve.”