California town changes policy to accommodate articles of faith on duty

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)

The Irvine Police Department in California announced a policy change on the last day of 2019, that allows employees and personnel to wear their articles of faith while on duty, a rule-change that was welcomed by Indian-Americans of the Sikh community.

According to the Irvine Police Department spokesperson Karie Davies, responding to a query from News India Times, the new policy on Personal Appearance Standards, is effective Jan. 1, 2020.

“There were some minor changes to the wording in our policy,” in the department’s Policy Manual as it relates to faith and/or articles of faith, Sgt. Davies told News India Times. She could not provide any data on how many Sikh personnel were in the Irvine Police Department, who might be affected by the rule change.

The ‘Policy 1008-Personal Appearance Standards’ spells out ‘Exemptions’ — “Members who seek cultural, (e.g., culturally protected hair and beard styles ), religious (e.g., religious headwear, religious grooming, or articles of faith), or other exemptions to this policy that are protected by law should be accommodated.)

However, it goes on to specify, that “A member with an exemption may be ineligible for an assignment if the individual accommodation presents a security or safety risk.”

But it further states that, “The Chief of Police should be advised any time a request for such an accommodation is denied or when a member with a cultural or other exemption is denied an assignment based on a safety or security risk.”

Sgt. Davies was not able to provide data on how many Sikhs or persons of other faiths needing to wear articles of faith were employed in the Irvine Police Department.

“We do not ask our employees what their religious or faith based affiliations are so we would not have that data to provide you,” Sgt. Davies said.

“We applaud the Irvine Police Department’s commitment to fair and equal employment opportunities and hope that other law enforcement agencies will follow their lead,” Nikki Singh, the policy and advocacy manager at the Sikh Coalition is quoted saying in a press release from the organization.

“As law enforcement agencies proactively change uniform policies that prohibit religious articles of faith, observant Sikhs will no longer face the choice between pursuing their career and sacrificing their religion,” Singh added.

The Sikh Coalition also mentioned its work last November when its staff and volunteers conducted ‘Sikh Awareness Presentations’ for more than 120 employees of the same Department. “Sikh Coalition staff and volunteers remain active in the state of California, where there are more than 70 gurdwaras, in efforts to directly engage educators, law enforcement, and government officials,” the Sikh Coalition said, noting numerous other police departments across the country that have already accommodated the articles of faith for observant Sikhs.

Among them, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, one of the first municipal agencies in the nation to accommodate an observant Sikh in 2004. Since then, accommodation policies have been developed by the U.S. Army and several law enforcement agencies, including the New York Police Department, Chicago Police Department, U.S. Federal Protective Service, and the Houston Police Department.




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