NYPD to Sikh officers to wear turbans and beards at work

New graduates of the NYPD Police Academy to take part in a graduation ceremony in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016. The ceremony celebrated 555 new employees who just completed their 6 months training. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

In a gesture of goodwill of the city’s burgeoning Sikh population, the New York City Police Department will soon allow officials who are members of the religion to wear blue turbans and beards while on duty.

The announcement was made by nypd commissioner James O’neill on Wednesday shortly after the police academy graduation ceremony at Madison Square Garden.

“We are making this change to ensure that we allow everyone in New York City, that wants to apply and have the opportunity to work for the largest police department in the nation,” O’neill told the media he was flanked by NYPD officers wearing blue turbans with badges on them.

Sikh officers will now be allowed to wear turbans instead of the traditional police cap and beards to grow to a half inch long for religious reasons, on the condition that they first get approval from a commanding officer. The turbans must be navy blue and have the NYPD insignia attached.

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FILE – In this Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016 file photo, nypd commissioner James O’neill speaks to the graduates of the police academy during their graduation ceremony in New York. The New York Police Department is now possible Sikh (seek) officers to wear turbans instead of the traditional police cap and beards to grow to a half inch long for religious reasons. O’neill announced the new rules that affect all religious members on Wednesday after a final exam for a new police recruits. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

For, Sikh officers had to adapt their turbans under their department-issued cap. Beards were banned, because they interfered with the carrying gas masks.

“I thought it was about time that we did,” O’neill told DNA Info. “Hopefully with this change in policy, we will be able to get more people to apply.”

O’neill added that there are around 160 Sikhs serving in the police department.

If the NYPD officially endorses the policy, it will join to a small group of law enforcement agencies who allow their ranks to wear a beard and turban, including police departments in Washington, D. C., and in Riverside, California and the United States Army. Since the 1990s, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have allowed beards and turbans, and earlier this year allowed Muslim “Mounties” wearing a hijab.

The members of the Sikh Coalition – a group that aims to protect the Sikh’s religious freedoms in the US, said that a written policy is implemented, it is difficult to weigh in on the merits of the amendment and the impact it will have on the community. The group did, however, say that O’neill’s words sent “a powerful message” to the rest of the country.

“The NYPD’s refusal to hire turbaned and bearded Sikhs can other employers to justify refusing to hire Sikhs,” Harsimran Kaur, the Sikh Coalition’s Legal Director, said in a statement sent to “If the NYPD’s new policy is indeed state for the Sikhs to maintain unshorn beards and turbans, which sends a powerful message to the rest of America that the Sikhs are an important part of our nation’s fabric.”

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Sikh men march down Broadway during the annual Sikh Day parade in New
York, 19 April 2003. The Sikh religion has a following of more than 20
million people worldwide and is ranked as the worlds 5th largest
religion. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton


Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that originated in the 15th century in the Punjab region of India and Pakistan. Man observant Sikhs often cover their heads with turbans — which are considered sacred — and refrain from shaving their beards.

While the majority of the world’s 30 million Sikhs live in India, the Sikh Coalition estimates that there are between 500,000 and 1 million members of the religious group in the U.S., with the majority of votes in the tri-state area around New York City.

“This is a careful process that we have been working with the Sikh officers to try to ensure that we get this done,” O’neill said of the NYPD’s new policy. “We want the NYPD as diverse as possible, and I think that this is a long way to go to help us with that.”

The NYPD offer an admission to the police academy in January, the first time that the nation’s largest police force has done that in about a year and a half.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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