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Sikh NYPD Officers Can Wear Turbans, Beards Under New Rules

By Danielle Tcholakian | December 28, 2016 5:30pm
 There are 160 Sikh members of the NYPD, according to Commissioner James O'Neill.
There are 160 Sikh members of the NYPD, according to Commissioner James O'Neill.
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DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian

MIDTOWN — The NYPD has revised its rules to allow Sikh members of the department to wear their turbans and have beards up to one half inch long, Police Commissioner James O'Neill announced on Wednesday.

O'Neill made the announcement after a graduation ceremony at Madison Square Garden, flanked by officers wearing navy blue turbans with NYPD badges affixed to them.

The policy change is part of an effort "to continue to make our department as diverse as possible," O'Neill said. "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 for the greatest police department in the nation."

The change has been in the works for some time, prior to O'Neill taking over as commissioner three months ago, "but I just wanted to make sure that we bring this thing to fruition," he said.

"I thought it was about time that we did that," he added. "Hopefully, with this change in policy, we're going to be able to get more people to apply."

Earlier this year, a Muslim officer sued the NYPD for suspending him when he refused to trim his beard. He was later reinstated. Back in 2001, a Sikh officer was fired for refusing to remove his turban.

The NYPD's previous policy allowed beards up to one millimeter long if a doctor confirmed the officer in question had a dermatological issue.

That policy still stands, O'Neill said, but now people who need a religious accommodation for a longer beard can seek the approval of the Deputy Commissioner of Equal Opportunity and O'Neill himself to grow their beard to a half-inch in length.

The Deputy Commissioner of Equal Opportunity and O'Neill will also approve religious head coverings as long as the covering has the police badge, or "cap device," affixed to it and is navy blue.

The person's hair must also be able to be "neatly tied inside the head covering," O'Neill said.

O'Neill credited Larry Byrne, Deputy Commissioner of the NYPD's Legal Bureau, with being "instrumental in making this happen."

"This has been a careful process that we've been working with the Sikh officers to try to make sure we get this done," O'Neill said. "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."

The NYPD is offering its entrance exam in January for the first time in about a year and a half, O'Neill noted.

Applicants who are between 17 and a half and 35 years old can register to take the test online at nypdrecruit.com.