Varinder Khun Khun, 28, has become the first Sikh to be sworn in as an officer in the Modesto police department in California. Khun Khun, who was born in India, has been allowed to wear his turban and beard on work despite the grooming policy that requires officers to be clean shaven.
Khun Khun graduated from the Napa Police Academy on June 11 along with two other officers and is one of 33 officers hired by the department so far this year. “I’ve never seen police officers wearing a turban before; I didn’t know if I would get a chance (to be a police officer)... I am thankful (to) the department for giving me the opportunity,” Khun Khun said before the swearing-in ceremony in Modesto.
As the Modesto police department allows only for a moustache that extends to the edge of the lip, Khun Khun had approached police chief Galen Carroll a year ago about applying for the job and about relaxation to the grooming policy.
“I told him that it didn’t matter, that we would make accommodations for his religious beliefs and that, more importantly, we were looking for people with high character standards, and he would be an addition to the police department as a segment of the community that is not represented in it,” said Carroll.
“You want to have a police department that mirrors the community as much as possible. When you call an officer and nobody looks like you... you don’t feel like they can understand you or relate to you,” said the police chief.
In 2012, California governor Jerry Brown signed a law that added to California’s Fair Employment Act protection against discrimination for religious dress and grooming practices. In April, three Sikh US army enlistees won permission to wear beards and turbans after filing federal lawsuits that seek to force the Pentagon to accommodate those who wear beards for religious purposes.