Historic day in Washington, DC police force for American Sikhs

Chief Cathy Lanier (C) announcing the change

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Washington DC – The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) of the US Capital, Washington, DC, made history on May 16, 2012 by becoming the first major metropolitan police department in the country to allow Sikh Americans to maintain their articles of faith while serving as full-time law enforcement officers.

Releasing a special order at MPD headquarters amending the uniform rules to incorporate specific guidance on the accommodation of the Sikh articles of faith, Police Chief Cathy Lanier said, “ I am proud of this new policy which reflects the values of the MPD. Making it clear that Sikh Americans may protect the nation’s capital and may serve their community as full-time officers reflects the promise we made to have a police force that serves as a model for those around the world.”

The new policy, which was developed with the cooperation of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), includes the following distinctions:

• Applies to all uniformed officers
• Protections for officer health and safety
• Accommodates the Sikh articles of faith, including beards and turbans

“Due to this new policy, Sikh Americans have an equal opportunity to serve in the nation’s capital,” said Jasjit Singh, Executive Director of SALDEF, encouraging, “Sikh Americans to pursue careers with MPD, the first major police department to allow Sikh Americans to serve and protect their neighbors as full-time officers while maintaining their religious identity.”

Reminding the audience that, “Just nine years ago, Sikh Americans had to sue to become traffic enforcement officers,” Singh highlighted the significance of the MPD decision.

“Chief Lanier and MPD recognize the importance of breaking down barriers to service. This first of a kind guidance by one of the nation’s premier law enforcement agencies serves as a model for other agencies across the country,” stated Singh.

Expressing her satisfaction with the policy shift for the MPD, Chief Lanier said, “It is important that we have representation for all of our community around Washington, DC and I am really happy that we were able to get this policy through.”

Referencing the tough standards of recruitment for the police force, Chief Lanier said it doesn’t make sense to deny acceptance on the basis of something “as simple as your appearance or grooming standards” after recruits had met all the rigorous physical, medical and academic regulations.

Sikh Americans often face barriers to employment in public safety because of their articles of faith, including uncut hair and turbans. Unlike their counterparts in other nations, Sikh Americans have often been discouraged from serving their communities because of uniform policies which lacked accommodations for religious articles.

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