Sikh Officers of Harris County allowed to wear their turbans on duty

Deputy Sandeep Singh Dhaliwal and Sheriff Adrian Garcia
Deputy Sandeep Singh Dhaliwal and Sheriff Adrian Garcia

HOUSTON, TEXAS (TIP): On February 6, Sheriff Adrian Garcia and members of Texas’s Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) made history as they held a press conference to welcome the agency’s first Sikh American deputy who will serve while wearing Sikh articles of faith, including the turban and beard.

Sikh Americans, who have been in the United States for over 125 years, wear their articles of faith to signify a commitment to equality, service, and justice. Harris County has made history as the largest Sheriff’s office in the United States to have amongst its employees an observant Sikh American to serve his local community as a full-time deputy with his articles of faith in tact.

“We commend Sheriff Adrian Garcia and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office for their leadership, and in recognizing that Sikh Americans and residents of Harris County should have the opportunity to serve their community, as we have done throughout our 125 year history in the United States,” said Jasjit Singh, Executive Director, SALDEF (Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund). “With this policy, one of the largest sheriff’s offices in the country has affirmed that a person does not have to choose between their faith and a career of service.”

Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal, an observant Sikh American, will for the first time be allowed to wear his Sikh articles of faith, including a dastaar (turban) and beard as part of his HCSO uniform. Dep. Dhaliwal joined the Harris County Sheriff’s Office in January 2009 as a detention officer. He became a patrol deputy in 2012 but per departmental policy at the time, he was not allowed to wear a turban or beard, both articles of faith of the Sikh religion. Due to Sheriff Garcia’s leadership that policy has now changed. In 2014, Sheriff Garcia allowed for exceptions to the HCSO’s uniform policy to allow for accommodation of religious articles under the dress code if it does not interfere with the employee’s duty. Accordingly, Sikh employees and prospective deputies can apply to wear turbans, neatly groomed beards, and other articles of faith.

“By making these religious accommodations we will ensure that the HCSO reflects the community we serve, one of the most culturally rich and diverse communities in America,” said Sheriff Garcia. “We believe that cross-cultural inclusion and understanding is imperative for law enforcement agencies in any community. HCSO deputies need to not only understand, respect, and communicate with all segments of the population, but represent it as well,” he added.

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“Our turbans and beards represent our belief in equality. They represent a lifetime commitment to selfless service for the welfare of all,” Jasjit Singh declared.

“Sheriff Garcia’s commitment to inclusion will help ensure that Harris County continues to attract the best and brightest from across our community to serve,” said Bobby Singh, Regional Director, SALDEF (Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund). “Sikh Americans cherish the values that are cultivated through a career in law enforcement, like service and commitment.”

Starting in December 2008, just one month after being elected sheriff, Sheriff Adrian Garcia met with the Sikh American community at the Sikh Center of Houston in order to ensure that the HCSO will facilitate the safety of all its residents. That meeting was the first of many Sheriff Garcia has held with the Sikh community and other religious and ethnic groups since taking office in 2009. Upon taking office in January 2009, Sheriff Garcia immediately expanded diversity training for all Sheriff’s Office personnel, established regular faith leaders meetings, and created a Citizen Advisory Council to foster and improve communication with the public.

The HCSO is the largest Sheriff’s Office in the United States to have a full-time Sikh American officer with his articles of faith intact due to a religious accommodation exception to their dress code policy. “We believe that this announcement will inspire other local law enforcement units from around the country to follow in Harris County’s footsteps,” said Jasjit Singh, Executive Director, SALDEF.

SALDEF’s Law Enforcement Partnership Program provided training materials, curriculum, and instructors to the HCSO during the past six years. LEPP began as the first formalized cultural awareness training program for law enforcement about Sikh Americans in 1999. The curriculum has expanded to reach 100,000 officers and agents throughout the country.

In May 2012, Washington Metropolitan Police Department, the seventh largest police force in the nation, became the first major police department in the United States to explicitly and voluntarily allow Sikh Americans to serve as full-time, uniformed police officers while keeping their articles of faith. Subsequently, California’s Riverside PD was the first police department in California, and only the second in the nation, to proactively amend their uniform guidance. California’s AB1964 then created statewide religious accommodations in favor of employees and job applications, which allows Sikh Americans to serve in the state with their articles of faith intact.

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