The first Indian-American woman to join the NYPD sporting a Sikh turban says she loves “making sure everybody is safe”
In its effort to diversify the New York City police force, the NYPD now boasts an Indian-American woman wearing a Sikh turban. Gursoch Kaur, told Desi Talk in an exclusive interview, that over the last few days since she graduated as an Auxiliary Police Officer May 16, she has been patrolling the streets of her neighborhood in Queens, controlling traffic, meeting people, and answering their questions.
Gursoch Kaur became part of what can be considered the ‘frontline’ of the NYPD, where the rubber hits the road – community policing- perhaps the most important part of law enforcement.
“We are the eyes and ears of the community,” she told Desi Talk. “I go on parades, am controlling traffic, making sure everybody is safe,” said the 20-year old, 2nd-year college student at Nassau Community College. She is majoring in accounting, and sees her current auxiliary officer position as a stepping stone to becoming a full-fledged police officer in the NYPD.
There are currently 185 Sikh police officers in NYPD, some 10 of them women, Gurvinder Singh, president of the Sikh Officers Association in NYC, told Desi Talk. Back in December 2016, turbans began to be allowed for recruits from the Sikh faith, after a long struggle by the community. And the Sikh Officers Association advised Gursoch Kaur, about the religious accommodation requirements when she qualified to join. “The Sikh Officers Association guided me and it was very helpful,” she told Desi Talk.
Already part of a Sikh Martial Arts team where the younger girls are inspired by her, Gursoch Kaur was driven to join the NYPD by her religious heritage, she says. “It goes back to ‘Sikhi’- about being both a sant and a sipayee,” she said. “Throughout our Sikh history, there have been women performing their daily tasks but also being warriors and looking after their country – like Mata Bhag Kaur and Bibi Harsharan Kaur,” she added. “When I listen to their story it encourages me.”
The few days of work has revealed to her that policing is not all about being serious, and her turban is an asset. People on the streets of the 105th precinct in Queens where she is deputed, find her turban interesting and ask her questions about it.
“I feel blessed. The only reason people are interested is because of my dastar (turban). People haven’t seen anything like that. It’s great because it gives me an opportunity to tell them what’s behind the turban, educate them. That’s how we love one another,” the young Auxiliary Officer told Desi Talk.
Her parents are not only proud, “They are overwhelmed with the number of messages they are getting,” because of her new job.
Knowing three languages, Hindi, Punjabi, and English is a great asset, she says. “It’s great to be bilingual so that our community members feel more comfortable,” she said.
“We are proud to welcome first #Sikh Turbaned female Auxiliary Police Officer in the @NYPDnews. APO Gursoach Kaur and other Auxiliary Police Officers graduated from the Academy. We are proud of you. Stay safe. #sikhsinlawenforcement,” said the Sikh Officers Association of NYC in a tweet May 16, posting photographs taken by one of its board members present at the graduation and swearing-in ceremony.
According to the Auxiliary Police website, the NYPD’s auxiliary police program is the largest auxiliary police program in the United States. Among other duties, the auxiliary police help the NYPD patrol housing developments, residential, and commercial areas; patrol subway entrances and stations; maintain order at parades, festivals, street fairs, and other special events; patrol houses of worship; assist in crime prevention activities, and control traffic when needed.
Organizations like SOA, and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, SALDEF, and other organizations, have been pushing for more recruitment from within the community. “We want to do a lot more recruitment, especially from the South Asian communities,” Gurvinder Singh, president of SOA told Desi Talk. “As a young woman Sikh with a turban, she will be one of the motivational persons for us to show the community it can join the police force. We want more of the younger generation to know that there are no restrictions and their religion is respected,” he added.
Amman Seehra, northeast regional director and board member of SALDEF, told Desi Talk, a turbaned woman being inducted into the NYPD was a big part of what his organization is focused on in its Law Enforcement Partnership Program. “LEPP involves both educating law enforcement and recruiting more Sikhs,” Seehra said.
Sikh American Veterans Alliance founder Lt. Col. Kamal S. Kalsi, the first Sikh to receive a religious accommodation to wear a turban and maintain a beard in uniform, told Desi Talk, “What’s important is that the largest auxiliary force in the country shows a woman in a dastar – it brings a beautiful example of diversity. I’m very proud of her.” Kalsi said the turban is optional for women but there has been a resurgence over the last decade of Sikh women wanting to wear a turban. “They embrace their heritage and it speaks to equality – that women can do what men can. It’s a great image to celebrate,” Kalsi added.
And in case her Nassau Community College professors are worried about her grades? “I plan to get good grades. We’ve got to focus everywhere,” says the confident police initiate. Her schedule as an auxiliary police officer accommodates her school schedule. She does mornings and some days it is evenings depending on her classes.
“They (NYPD Auxiliary Police) are very flexible. It’s a great experience and I would recommend to women in any country — go into the police force,” Gursoch Kaur says.