NEW YORK – Sikh officers can now wear full turbans in the New York Police Department.
NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill announced the policy change Wednesday, flanked by officers in navy blue turbans fastened with police brass.
“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,” O’Neill said.
“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.”
While the NYPD patrol guide maintains a strict policy regarding head coverings, officers will now be able to wear turbans with a religious exemption signed by top department officials, O’Neill said.
There are about 160 Sikh officers in the NYPD, the commissioner said.
Before the policy change, Sikh officers could wear a smaller wrap, known as a patka, beneath their official police cap, said Gurvinder Singh, an NYPD officer and president of the national Sikh Officers Association.
“Now I’ll be able to serve with my full turban on. It’s a great feeling,” he said.
Facial hair still an issue
The NYPD also announced Wednesday a religious accommodation allowing for officers to, with approval, grow a beard up to half an inch long.
The previous policy had allowed for beards of up to a millimeter in length.
Some leaders in the Sikh community applauded the policy change on turbans, but said the NYPD needed to go further with the policy on facial hair.
“While it’s definitely a great step, we look forward to reviewing the policy in depth and ensuring that Sikhs can serve with their turban and beards intact and with no limitations or restrictions to either,” said Kavneet Singh, a board member of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
The turban and the practice of keeping a beard or unshorn hair, known as kesh, are among the articles of faith maintained by Sikhs.
The NYPD would not comment Wednesday evening on the ongoing lawsuit.
As the largest police force in the country, the NYPD has long prided itself on being one of the most diverse.
About 900 Muslim Americans serve in the NYPD, city officials have said.
Female Muslim officers have for years been able to receive a religious exemption allowing them to wear head scarves, according to Lt. Adeel Rana, president of the NYPD’s Muslim Officers Society.
The policy announcement followed a graduation ceremony held at Madison Square Garden that saw over 550 men and women sworn in as New York City police officers.