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Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier speaks to release the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) new uniform and appearance rules at the MPD headquarters in Washington, DC, on May 16, 2012. MPD became the first major police department in the US to proactively allow Sikh Americans to serve as full-time officers while keeping their articles of faith. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GettyImages) Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier speaks to release the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) new uniform and appearance rules at the MPD headquarters in Washington, DC, on May 16, 2012. MPD became the first major police department in the US to proactively allow Sikh Americans to serve as full-time officers while keeping their articles of faith. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GettyImages)  

DC police adopt new uniform accommodations for Sikhs to don turbans, beards

Photo of Caroline May
Caroline May
Political Reporter

The Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) is now the first major American police department to adopt a uniform policy allowing Sikhs to wear beards and turbans while serving in uniform as law enforcement officers.

The new accommodation policy, the department announced on Wednesday, was developed in coordination with the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF).

“Nine years ago, Sikh Americans had to sue to become traffic enforcement officers. Today, the Nation’s Capital is inviting all Sikh Americans to become full-time, full-fledged police officers,” said Jasjit Singh, executive director of SALDEF, in a statement. “Our articles of faith are signs of our commitment to equality and public service — the same values held by every law enforcement officer, the same values represented by the MPD uniform.”

While there are currently no Sikhs on active duty with the D.C. police force, The Washington Post reports that the new policy comes as a Sikh reserve officer is about to graduate from the policy academy.

“I am proud of this new policy which reflects the values of the MPD,” Chief of Police Cathy Lanier added in a statement on Wednesday. “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. It is important that all those who live in, work in, and visit the District see our values and commitment to the community in our officers.”

Under the new rules allowing Sikhs to don their articles of faith, The Washington Examiner reports further that Sikh police officers will need to wear turbans the same color as their uniform and keep their beards neat. Other officers desiring a beard must seek a waiver.

“We are pleased to partner with MPD as they continue to play a leading role in developing best practices for the law enforcement community,” Singh said. “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.”

According to SALDEF, there are over 25 million Sikhs in the world, 700,000 of whom reside in the United States.

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