The New York Police Department will allow its Sikh officers to wear turbans and maintain beards, relaxing its uniform policy, a move aimed at inclusiveness.
New York Police Commissioner James O'Neill announced the measures being taken towards ensuring religious accommodation to its officers following a graduation ceremony for new police recruits.
Under the revised policy, officers from the Sikh faith will be allowed to have beards that extend up to one-half inch from the face. The officers may also wear blue turbans with a hat shield it affixed to it in place of the traditional police cap.
"We're making this change to make sure that we allow everybody in New York City that wants to apply and have the opportunity to work in the greatest police department in the nation, to make sure we give them that opportunity," the commissioner said.
Standing alongside Sikh officers after the grand graduation ceremony, O'Neill the measures were aimed at making the NYPD "as diverse as possible". "We changed our beard policy and our head covering policy. It is a major change in our uniform policy, so we had to go about it carefully," he said, as quoted in a New York Post report.
The Commissioner said there are about 160 Sikh officers currently in the ranks and he was looking to expand those numbers. He said the religious accommodation will give people from the faith the opportunity to join the police department.
"We've been working with the Sikh officers to try to make sure we get this done. I had the opportunity to make the change and I thought it was about time that we did that. We want to make the NYPD as diverse as possible and I think this is going to be one way to help us with that," he said.
Sikh Officers Association, a group of Sikh officers welcomed the move, posting on Twitter that "Thank you @NYPDONeill for allowing Sikh Officers to wear a turban in the @NYPDnews. This is a proud moment for Sikh Community".
Of the 557 recruits who graduated from the Police Academy, 33 are Muslims and two are Sikhs, according to the Police Department. According to the police department's patrol guide, officers are prohibited from having beards and headdresses that are not part of the uniform.
However exceptions have been made for officers who receive a medical or religious accommodation to wear facial hair up to one millimetre in length. Sikh advocacy group Sikh Coalition welcomed the move, saying it will send a strong message that there should be no discrimination against members of the community, which has contributed significantly to the city and the country.
"The Sikh Coalition has been working for over a decade to change the NYPD's policy that discriminated against Sikhs," the group said in a post on Facebook adding that in recent years, that work has continued with community partners, like the NYPD Sikh Officer Association.