On November 5, the New York Police Department agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit filed in 2018 that alleged officers violated the religious rights of Muslim women by demanding they remove their hijabs in front of men for booking photos. In the Muslim faith, women who choose to don the headscarf do not remove it in front of men who are not members of their immediate families. Under the agreement, NYPD will no longer insist on any religious headwear be removed for photos, including turbans worn by Sikhs and yarmulkes and wigs worn by Orthodox Jews.
Exceptions can be made if the garment is hiding distinguishing features that would provide investigative value or if there’s reasonable suspicion it’s worn as a disguise. Headwear still will be removed for searches of weapons or contraband. However, the department’s Patrol Guide will be revised to specify that any removal of religious headwear must be conducted in a private area and by an officer of the same gender. In 2015, NYPD issued an interim order instructing officers to escort individuals who opposed removal of headwear to a private room at Police Headquarters. According to The New York Times, the order was never incorporated into the Patrol Guide, and the 2018 lawsuit asserts this policy prolonged arrestees’ detainment. Newsweek also reports the policy was inconsistently applied.
The settlement also calls for police to document any removal of headwear with a full explanation of why deemed necessary. The plaintiffs’ attorneys will conduct an annual review of the documentation for the next three years.
Patricia Miller, chief of the Special Federal Litigation Division of the New York City Law Department, told CNN, “[The reform] carefully balances the department’s respect for firmly held religious beliefs with the legitimate law enforcement need to take arrest photos, and should set an example for other police departments in the country.”
In September, a 26-year-old Muslim woman filed a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore, an LAPD detective and four officers, claiming her First Amendment rights were violated. According to Religion News, the woman says her headscarf was pulled down without permission in front of male officers after she was removed from a 2019 police commission meeting and handcuffed. The case is pending. A similar lawsuit has been filed against the Michigan Department of Corrections and the city of Detroit.