The New York Police Department will now allow Sikh officers to wear turbans and beards, although it restricts the beard size to half-an-inch. Announcing the change in uniform and appearance policy, City Police Commissioner James O’Neill said: “We want to make the NYPD as diverse as possible.”
Welcoming the change, the Sikh Officers Association tweeted: “This is a proud moment for Sikh Community.” But because of the half-inch beard restriction, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a human rights organization, appeared to give new policy a qualified welcome.
“We look forward to reviewing the policy in depth to ensure that Sikhs can serve with their turban and beards intact and with no limitations or restrictions to either,” said board member Kavneet Singh.
But Singh added: “We commend Commissioner O’Neill on this positive step to make the NYPD a fully inclusive department.” Till now Sikh NY police were allowed to wear only a small head covering, the patka, under their regulation hats or caps. Now they can wear a full blue turban.
“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.”
A group of Sikh officers wearing blue turbans with the NYPD badges accompanied O’Neill when he made the announcement. Two Sikhs, who were among the 557 graduates, had earlier received permission to keep their beards but not wear full turbans.
O’Neill estimated that there are about 160 Sikhs in the 34,500-strong force in the city of 8.5 million people. The new policy seemed to apply to traffic police who are officially called traffic agents and wear white hats. Last week a Sikh police traffic agent was seen directing traffic near the United Nations wearing a white turban.
In April, the U.S. 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 was restricted to non-hazardous duties because of concerns with using gas masks.
The U.S. Army was facing a lawsuit by a soldier alleging the ban on turbans amounted to religious discrimination. The change in NYPD policy on beards may also allow Muslims police officers to keep their beards. But Muslim officers are demanding that they should be allowed two-inch beards and one of them has filed a discrimination suit.
In 2012, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority 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 the police medallion on their turbans and so far Sikh officers have not objected to it.