U.S. Capitol Wants Sikh Police Officers
By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 | 01:12 pm
Chief of Police Cathy Lanier and Jasjit Singh, executive director for the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, on May 16 announced at the Metropolitan (Washington) Police Department headquarters that Sikhs can serve as full-fledged, full-time officers with all of their articles of faith.
Photo Source: SALDEF
The Metropolitan Police Department in Washington this month announced that it wants to hire Sikhs, with their five Ks and Dastaar, as police officers.
The department in December 2011 amended its grooming policy of trimmed hair, and its religious articles policy of requiring requests for accommodations, to allow Sikh officers to have all of their articles of faith, including the Kesh (long hair), Kara (steel bracelet) and Kirpan (divine sword), while on duty. The special order also allows Sikh officers to wear their turban instead of a police hat.
“To me, when I get questions about why the policy shift, my first thought is: Why not?” said Chief Cathy Lanier, the first woman chief of police at the department. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
Lanier spoke about her own experience of seeing women officers achieve their civil rights. In her lifetime had seen women excluded from driving police cars, much less become police chiefs, she said. Lanier became police chief in April 2007.
“This is a really significant day for us,” she said at the May 16 news conference at police headquarters. “It is very, very difficult to find highly qualified police officers. There are very rigid standards. You have physical standards, medical standards, academic standards, educational standards… to get recruits through all that process and then to think about something as simple as appearance or grooming standards that would prevent somebody who is talented enough to meet all that other criteria, it really just doesn’t make sense.”
About nine years ago, the Sikh community had to sue New York City for the right to be traffic officers, said Jasjit Singh, executive director for the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. A Sikh finally did become a traffic officer but has since left the service.
“Today it’s the nations capital (that) is inviting us to become full-time, full-fledged police officers,” he said. “It’s a great matter of pride. We encourage Sikh Americans to take full advantage of this historic announcement and consider a career with the MPD.
The Washington-based advocacy group began lobbying for a policy change about five years ago through its Sikh cultural awareness training. Since then, about 4,000 officers have completed the training, he said.
“It was because of the relationship we established over many years that the chief proactively changed the policy,” he later told SikhNN. “…We didn’t have to sue anyone for this.
“With this policy, we can positively shape the image of Sikhs in this country.”
This is the first major metropolitan police department to proactively allow Sikh officers to serve as full-time officers with their articles of faith, he announced at the news conference.
Only one other Sikh is serving in law enforcement in the United States, but not with a police service, and not as a full-fledged officer. Jagjit Singh joined the Reserve Deputy Sheriffs in Los Angeles, one of the largest reserve programs in California, in July 2004.
According to the Sheriffs’ Web site, “The reserves represent expertise and experience in a variety of professions helping to augment the many facets of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Like full-time deputies, reserve deputies are professionally trained and duly sworn law-enforcement personnel.”
“Today we join our counterparts across the world in being able to protect our community and proudly wear our turbans and keep our beards while doing so,” Jasjit Singh said at the news conference. “These are signs of our commitment to equality and public service, the same values that law enforcement holds dear and the values that the MPD uniform represents.”
The department’s special order specifically addresses Sikh uniform requirements.
“Members of the Sikh faith may wear a turban exclusively at all times,” the policy says. “In instances where a Sikh member is required a riot helmet, he/she may wear a smaller ‘under-turban’ underneath the appropriate helmet.
“Members who wear Sikh turbans shall ensure the turban fits snugly on their head so that the top peak of the turban is facing in the front. The MPD cap/plate badge, normally worn on the hat, shall be pinned to the Sikh turban, centered on the front of the turban. The turbans are the same colors as the hats corresponding to MPD uniform requirements.
“Members who wear Sikh turbans may wear their turban at all times including while appearing for court and administrative proceedings… (They) shall groom their hair on their head and tie it in a top knot/bun secured under their turban. Male members… shall groom their beard and tie their beard in a knot that is tucked and held in place under their chin in a neat and clean manner. (They also must) groom their mustaches in a neat and clean manner.
“Members of the Sikh faith may wear a Kara, as long as the Kara does not interfere with the ability of the member to perform his/her duties. (And those) who carry a Kirpan shall ensure the Kirpan is worn in a cloth holster (i.e. ‘Gatra’) under their uniform shirt, (and) has as a blade-length no longer than three inches.”
The police department already has a Sikh as a reserve officer. He is expected to become a full-time and full-fledged police officer in the near future.
“One of the great successes and the reason why the MPD is so successful… is because our officers mirror the communities we serve,” said Assistant Chief Patrick Burke, at the news conference.
“We have talked about job fairs with the Sikh community. We look forward to working hand-in-hand with you in the future.”