HOUSTON — The Houston Police Department is now the largest law enforcement agency in Texas, and one of the largest in the country, to allow Sikh officers to represent their faith while on duty.
The rule change comes after the death of fallen Harris County Sheriff’s Officer Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal, whose life inspired this change.
The fallen deputy’s father was at Houston City Hall for Monday’s announcement, where the city’s mayor, police chief, and several notable Sikh officials spoke and praised the late deputy’s service, passion, and commitment.
“It’s great,” Pyara Singh Dhaliwal said. “I’m honored.”
City leaders public announced a policy change Chief Art Acevedo signed off on Oct. 11. Sikh officers, along with those of other religions, can wear their articles of faith on duty.
The chief and mayor hope a city famous for its diversity will now also be known for its inclusiveness.
“Please come and apply at the Houston Police Department,” Acevedo said while delivering a message to the Sikh community. “Our policy’s intact. It is open.”
HPD officials told KHOU the department began working on the change after getting a Sikh applicant. However, Acevedo said Monday the deputy’s murder ramped up the urgency.
It’s a change many Houstonians, including the deputy’s friend, Sikh Coalition board member Manpreet Kaur Singh, spent years fighting for.
“It’s really gonna bring comfort to a lot of the citizens here,” said Singh. “I think (Deputy Dhaliwal) would be more than proud. More than just being more than proud, I think that this was part of his greater legacy.”
In 2015, Deputy Dhaliwal became the first at Harris County Sheriff’s Office to wear his articles of faith, including a beard and turban, on duty after that agency made a similar rule change.
Sheriff Ed Gonzalez says HPD isn’t the only department inspired to act since then.
“We were told that agencies such as NYPD historically looked at our policy and said, ‘If Harris County can do it, we can do it,’” said Sheriff Gonzalez. “(Deputy Dhaliwal) was really a trailblazer.”
Sheriff Gonzalez said he’s still receiving messages from all over the world from people impacted by Deputy Dhaliwal’s death and inspired by his life.
“Your son was a true blessing,” Acevedo said while hugging Dhaliwal and pointing to his own heart. “He lives right here.”
“I’m honored,” Dhaliwal said. “The honor I got from this community and from the chief, the police department and the sheriff department is ... I have no words to say. So, I very much thank all of these bodies. Wonderful moment.”
Acevedo told Dhaliwal’s father he’s going to name the religious accommodations section of their uniform policy after his son.
According to the Sikh Coalition, 25 law enforcement agencies around the U.S., including its largest, the New York Police Department, make religious accommodations for Sikh officers.