What Happened To Uniformity?
I recently received a press release announcing the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in Washington, DC has modified its uniform rules to accommodate religious practices. Specifically, the rules were changed to allow people of the Sikh religion to “maintain their articles of faith while serving as full-time cops.” The articles MPD is primarily addressing are their beards and turbans. Huh? What?
Now, before anyone accuses me of being anti-religion, let me be very clear: My concern with this policy change has absolutely nothing to do with religion. Whatever religion you may choose to participate in, even the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, it’s your personal choice. It should stay personal and not influence or intrude upon the business of policing. My biggest concern is for officer safety and, to some degree, the diluting of the concept of uniforms.
Nobody is forced to become a cop any more than they’re forced to practice their chosen religion; it’s a conscious decision we all make. Many of the policies related to grooming, uniforms and the equipment carried are in place for officer safety reasons. For instance, clip-on ties prevent bad guys from strangling you, and short hair is much harder to grab hold of (ladies, ponytails and buns make great handles). A turban can come undone during a fight, leaving an opponent not only with a large piece of cloth to choke you, but also a mountain of hair to grab. What’s that saying: wherever the head goes, the body follows?
Part of the job may involve the use of a riot helmet or gas mask. You can’t get a good seal on a gas mask when you’ve got a beard, and you certainly can’t don a riot helmet over a turban. So, how can these officers participate in everything cops may be required to do? If they can’t effectively wear just these two items, will they get a pass on riot control? Is this fair? If you choose to be a cop, you need to be able to do the whole job.
Let’s take this a little further — considering we’re on a very slippery slope of politically correct “diversity.” Within the Muslim religion, women wear headscarves or veils as symbols of their faith. Hasidic Jews wear long, uncut sideburns called payot, and the white threads dangling at their waists are called tzitzis. These are examples of articles of faith, so I’m wondering if MPD’s new rules will embrace all religions in the same manner.
And what about tattoos? Many agencies have rules prohibiting them from being visible to the public. The rationale is they’re unprofessional and distracting. But what if the tattoo is for religious reasons? Wouldn’t it then be an article of faith? If so, and if it shows, would it be allowed? Another grooming standard some agencies regulate is the wearing of jewelry, specifically necklaces. Some agencies prohibit necklaces — except religious pendants. Is this right?
Keeping Up Appearances
Uniform (noun): dress of a distinctive design or fashion worn by members of a particular group and serving as a means of identification. Uniform (verb): presenting an unvaried appearance of surface, pattern or color.
The entire world is made up of individuals, but individuality should never trump the uniformity of the businesses for which we work. The police uniform is your identity while at work — nothing more, nothing less. Whatever belief system you have individually and however you represent your beliefs through clothes, articles of faith, grooming or whatever, does not belong in the workplace.
What’s the point of having uniforms if we’re going to cave to every special request that comes down the pike? It’s up to the individual people to conform to the standards of the agencies employing them, not the other way around. If you don’t like, or can’t comply with a uniform standard, then find something else to do instead of demanding your special needs be accommodated — as MPD has done. I welcome your comments.
By Suzi Huntington
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