The Sikh Officers Association has 160 members — a number that might be much higher were it not for the longstanding policy that previously banned officers from wearing turbans while on patrol.
“A lot of people wanted to sign up and serve their city, but at the same time they wanted to be able to stay true to their religion,” said Gurvinder Singh, a Glen Oaks resident who serves as president of the Sikh Officers Association.
The policy was changed last Wednesday when Police Commissioner James O’Neill announced Sikhs can wear a turban with the NYPD insignia on it, in addition to growing their beards up to half an inch long. Previously, beards could only be up to a millimeter in length. That policy still applies for officers growing beards not for religious reasons. For those wishing to have their facial hear up to half an inch long, approval must be granted by NYPD 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 at a press conference.
Before last Wednesday’s announcement, Sikh officers had to wear their turbans underneath their NYPD-mandated caps.
Singh, who works in the Community Affairs bureau, said with the change, the NYPD should expect an influx of new officers.
“You will have a lot more Sikhs trying to get into the Police Department,” he said.
The Glen Oaks resident and other Sikh officials have been fighting for the change in policy for years.
“I believe no one should have to choose between their religion and profession; and all Americans of all faiths should be allowed to freely exercise and display their religious choice at their place of employment,” said Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), whose district includes many Sikhs.
Weprin has sponsored legislation seeking similar policy changes upstate via the Religious Garb Bill, which would allow Sikhs and members of other religions to wear any item of clothing at their workplace.
The Sikh Coalition issued a statement expressing what it called “cautious optimism” of the policy change, praising the allowance of turbans but calling for officers to have their beards at full length.
“The devil is in the details and we hope the NYPD recognizes that any trimming of the Sikh beard is in direct violation of the Sikh faith and would continue a policy that forces officers to make the false choice between their religion and service to our great city,” Sikh Coalition Legal Director Harsimran Kaur said in a statement.