The New York Police Department is allowing Sikh officers to wear full turbans in place of the traditional police cap and grow beards up to a half-inch long as required by their religion.
NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill announced the change in policy Wednesday following a graduation ceremony for new recruits surrounded by officers wearing navy blue turbans kept in place with police brass, CNN reported.
“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,” O’Neill said.
“It’s a major change in our uniform policy, so we had to go about it carefully. And now I have the opportunity to make the change, and I thought it was about time that we did that.”
O’Neill said the NYPD has about 160 Sikh officers.
He said that even though the NYPD has a strict policy regarding head coverings, officers will be able to wear turbans as head coverings as a religious exemption so long as they get approval first.
The turbans must also be navy blue and have the NYPD insignia attached, the Daily Mail reports.
Male observant Sikhs cover their heads with turbans, which are considered sacred, and don’t shave their beards.
Before the policy change, Sikh officers could wear a smaller wrap known as a patka underneath their department issued cap, said Gurvinder Singh, an NYPD officer and president of the national Sikh Officers Association.
Beards were prohibited because they interfered with wearing gas masks.
Those with a medical or religious exemption could only wear facial hair up to 1 mm in length.
Sikh advocates praised the NYPD’s decision to be more inclusive.
“If the NYPD’s new policy indeed allows for Sikhs to maintain unshorn beards and turbans, that sends a powerful message to the rest of America that Sikhs are an important part of our nation’s fabric,” Harsimran Kaur, legal director of The Sikh Coalition, told NBC News in a statement.