Houston Police adopt religious apparel policy in wake of Indian-American officer’s killing

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Thousands attended the memorial for slain Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal Oct. 2, in Houston. (Photo: courtesy Syndee Jolly of Click Cafe Photography via The Sikh Coalition)

This October 11, exactly three weeks after the wanton shooting death of Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal, the Houston Police Department announced it had made a major policy change allowing law enforcement officers to wear their articles of faith while in uniform.

The announcement was made by Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo to honor Dhaliwal who was shot to death behind his back during a routine traffic stop. His memorial on Oct. 2, was attended by thousands of people and around the world, law enforcement as well as others mourned for him.

Dhaliwal was the first Indian-American of the Sikh faith allowed to wear his turban and beard in uniform in the Houston police force. Dhaliwal’s suspected killer Robert Solis, charged with capital murder, could face the death penalty.

“We can confirm that the religious accommodation change is, in fact, a distinctly new policy that goes into effect immediately,” Rajanpreet Kaur, spokesperson for the Sikh Coalition said in a mailer.

“We are pleased that the nation’s fifth-largest police department has significantly expanded the ability for Sikhs and other religious minorities to serve with their articles of faith intact,” Sikh Coalition Policy and Advocacy Manager Nikki Singh, is quoted saying in a press release, “We hope this policy change encourages other departments nationwide to implement inclusive accommodation policies so that those who wish to serve are able to do so,” Nikki Singh added.

“Deputy Dhaliwal exemplified the ideal of seva, or selfless service to his community,” said Manpreet K. Singh, Sikh Coalition board member, Houston community leader, and Deputy Dhaliwal’s family spokesperson. “This policy change from the Houston Police Department sends the message that practicing one’s religion and serving your community can go hand in hand.”

In tribute to Deputy Dhaliwal’s service, on Oct. 2, the Sikh Coalition along with 98 former and current Sikh service-members and law enforcement officials delivered letter to the Department of Defense and national police agencies advocating for changes to accommodation policies for religious minorities. “These efforts are part of our ongoing work to ensure all religious minorities are able to freely serve with their religious articles of faith intact,” the Sikh Coalition said.

The Houston Police Department has become the latest major law enforcement agency to improve their religious accommodation policies and joins other large law enforcement agencies like the NYPD, Chicago Police Department, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to make similar changes in recent years.

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