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Sikh officers with the NYPD are now allowed to wear turbans and grow beards

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Sikh officers with the New York Police Department can now wear full turbans and grow beards up to a half-inch long, thanks to a new policy announced Wednesday. 

NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill told CNN the NYPD  changed its policy in order to more accurately reflect the growing diversity of the city. 

"We want to make the NYPD as diverse as possible, and I think this is going to go a long way to help us with that," O'Neill told CNN.

There are approximately 160 Sikh officers in the NYPD.

Navy blue turbans with NYPD insignia

This is a major change in policy for the NYPD. Previously, Sikh officers were allowed to wear a smaller wrap beneath their official police caps. 

O'Neill said the policy was changed so Sikhs will be able to wear turbans as a religious exemption. Sikh officers will be required to get approval beforehand, and the new policy says the turbans must be navy blue with the NYPD insignia attached to the front. 


Beards and gas masks

In addition to the turban policy, beards more than a millimeter in length were previously forbidden because they interfere with wearing gas masks.  

The NYPD also announced a religious accommodation that will allow Sikh officers to grow a beard up to half an inch long.

Male Sikhs often cover their heads with turbans, which are considered sacred, and maintain beards as part of their faith.  The practice, however, is not universal for all Sikhs.


The importance of hair 

Many Sikhs also never cut the hair on their heads -- the devout consider all hair to be a "gift from God." 

Reverence of hair is one of the five articles of faith for the religion, which began about 1500 CE in the Punjab region of India. There are an estimated 27 million avowed Sikhs worldwide.

The Sikh Officers Association applauded the move, calling it "a proud moment for [the] Sikh community." 

NYPD sued over facial hair policies

Earlier this year, the NYPD was sued by a Muslim officer, Masood Syed, who claims he was suspended for wearing a beard longer than a millimeter in length. 

Syed was later reinstated but his case remains open. 

On Wednesday, Syed told CNN the new policy was a "disappointment." He is still advocating for a two-inch beard policy. 

Longer beards?

"It's not just for Muslims," Syed, who is also a lawyer, told CNN. "We have Sikh officers, we have Jewish officers, we have Israelite officers, who all believe that the beard length should be longer than half an inch, who have all approached me and asked me to represent them and submitted their name in support of this policy." 

The NYPE did not comment Wednesday on the ongoing lawsuit. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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