Settled lawsuit allows NYPD officers to grow longer beards and wear turbans

An NYPD traffic officer shown in September 2017 wearing a traditional turban directing traffic. A new settled case will allow officers to grow longer beards and wear navy blue turbans as part of their uniforms in an effort to allow more diversity in the police force. (Photo: Getty Images)

The NYPD has recognized that beards are more than just a fashion statement.

New York City police officers can now grow beards for religious reasons. The new policy has been implemented after a Muslim cop filed a lawsuit. He claimed he was unjustly suspended for wearing a beard more than 1 millimeter long.

Officer Masood Syed is responsible for the policy change. Syed, 33, filed a class-action lawsuit in June 2016 in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, challenging the constitutionality of the NYPD’s ban on beards. He cited it as a violation of First Amendment rights.

The lawsuit came after Syed, a Pakistani-American, was suspended without pay when he refused to shave his 1-inch beard, which he wears as a Sunni Muslim. Syed has worked as a law clerk for the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of trials since 2006.

Syed had kept his beard when he joined the force by asking for medical accommodation. Two years later, he asked for religious accommodation, according to NBC News. In 2016, it was the first time a supervisor told Syed he was out of compliance with NYPD policy. When he refused to shave, he was suspended.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, he was restored to full duty and permitted to keep his 1-inch beard. But the fight wasn’t over. In December 2016, the NYPD revised its policy allowing facial hair of up to a half inch for religious beliefs with the department’s approval.

On Jan. 2, the city settled the class-action lawsuit.

“We are pleased with the resolution of this case,” a New York City Law Department spokesman told the Daily News about the settlement. “The agreed-upon reforms balance the operational needs of the police department with the religious beliefs and needs of officers.”

The new NYPD policy allowing for longer beards also permits cops to wear turbans for religious reasons. The turbans will have to be navy blue and display a departmental insignia.

“It’s a major change,” Police Commissioner James O’Neill said about the rule change. O’Neill has hopes the new dress code will bring more diversity to the force, thus increasing the number of applicants.

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