In a year when news about the police usually involved the death of a civilian or the death of an officer, departments across the country have recognized that they have a lot to work on, including inclusivity in the departments themselves. Until last Wednesday, members of the New York City Police Department were unable to grow beards or wear turbans even for religious reasons, a policy that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio referred to as effectively making the officers chose between their religion and their career.
Under the revised policy officers, are now allowed to grow beards up to one-half inch long and wear blue turbans affixed with the NYPD shield while in uniform. The policy change was pushed for by members of the Sikh Officers Association, which numbers about 160 officers. But Officer Gurvinder Singh, president of the association, believes the new religious considerations will encourage more Sikh candidates to apply for the police academy, he told the New York Times.
“A lot of their kids wanted to join, but they couldn’t,” he told the Times. “And now they can. This country has given us a lot, and now we want to pay it back.”
As of publication, the only municipalities in the country with similar dress code exemptions are Washington, D.C. and Riverside, Calif., according to the Times, in addition to the U.S. Army. Activists have pushed for similar actions in the NYPD, including a class-action suit filed by a Muslim officer in June to change the department’s beard guidelines.
“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,” NYPD Police Commissioner James O’Neill said at the press conference where he announced the policy change. “"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."
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