|Religious exemption for Sikh cops|
|Written by Mark Nichols|
According to a recent article in the Washington Post, The D.C. Metro Police is now the first major metropolitan police department in the country to allow Sikh officers to wear beards and religious items such as turbans while on the job. A Sikh is a follower of Sikhism. It primarily originated in the 15th century in the Punjab region of India.
The policy change was announced by Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, who compared Sikhs to other groups that have struggled for equality in the ranks of law enforcement.
“I have to remind myself sometimes that in my lifetime women were not allowed to ride in patrol cars along with men, and now I’m chief,” Lanier said at a news conference that was attended by members of the local Sikh community.
Lanier said law enforcement works best when the cops look like the people they’re [policing.
“To me this is a common-sense decision. It is important that we have representation from all of our communities across Washington, D.C.”
The policy also allows Sikhs to carry other religious items like steel bracelets around their wrists and small decorative swords under their clothes.
This all came about apparently as a Sikh reserve officer was preparing to graduate from the police academy. Currently there are no active-duty Sikh officers working for the D.C. police.
The reserve officer used to work for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, where he and another reserve officer tried but failed to change that agency’s dress code policy to allow Sikh articles of faith.
According to Jasjit Singh, executive director of the Washington-based Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), this could be the beginning of a sea change in law enforcement appearance standards.
“The beauty of this country is it really is founded on the idea of religious liberty,” he said, adding that, with the new rule, Sikhs will no longer have to make a “false choice” between their faith and their livelihood.
There are about 700,000 Sikhs in the United States, and about 25,000 live in the Washington metro area, according to SALDEF.
Lanier says this isn’t the first accommodation made to individual officers for religious reasons.
She says the department has made allowances for dreadlocks and beards and that the public has supported the changes.
written by jenna, January 14, 2013