Sikh officers who wear turbans or beards for religious purposes are allowed to do so on the job now, NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill announced Wednesday.
"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," he said.
O’Neill, who made the announcement after a graduation ceremony for more than 550 new NYPD officers,said there are roughly 160 Sikh officers on the force.Prior to the change, they were allowed to wear a smaller head covering called a patka under their police hat.
“Now I’ll be able to serve with my full turban on. It’s a great feeling,” Gurvinder Singh, an officer who is president of the national Sikh Officers Association, told CNN. “There will be a lot more Sikh officers now taking the next exam.”
The turbans must be navy blue and have a police insignia attached to it.
Beards, which were previously allowed to be a millimeter in length, can now be up to half an inch long. Such facial hair was banned because it can affect the seal on gas masks. Certain NYPD sectors, such as anti-terrorism units, that often use gas masks remain exempt from having beards.
The police department was sued by Muslim officer Masood Syed over the summer, who alleged that he was suspended for having a beard that did not meet policy standards. The 10-year NYPD veteran was later reinstated, but his class-action suit is ongoing and aims to change the policy to allow a two-inch beard.
“For me, it’s important because of my faith and my religion, but it’s also important for me to represent those other officers,” Syed told CNN, adding that there are also Jewish and Israeli officers in addition to Muslims and Sikhs on the force.
The NYPD has roughly 900 Muslims on its force.