Columbus police may reconsider hijab ban

By Bethany Bruner

Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan said this week that he plans to take another look at the division’s ban on hijabs and other head coverings. The ban made headlines in 2015 after a female recruit left the police academy when she was not permitted to wear a head scarf.

Columbus police Chief Thomas Quinlan said this week that he is open to taking another look at the division’s ban on head coverings for religious reasons.

The ban made headlines in 2015 after a female police recruit left the Columbus police academy because she was not permitted to wear a hijab, or head scarf.

In 2015, the Police Division said the desire was to have officers look uniform and not have any outward appearance that could affect how they are received by the community. There also were concerns about head scarves potentially being used to strangle officers during a struggle.

Shortly after that recruit left the academy, the Ohio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed an employment discrimination complaint over the hijab issue.

The group says the Ohio Constitution and Ohio civil-rights laws allow people to express their faith even if they are government employees.

In the Muslim faith, a hijab is worn by women as a show of modesty around any males that are not family members. This scarf is traditionally worn by women regardless of their marital status.

The ban effectively prevents practicing female Muslims from joining local law enforcement. With an estimated 40,000 Somali immigrants in Columbus and central Ohio — the second-largest population in the country — Quinlan said the city and the division should rethink the ban to better reflect the city that officers serve.

“The division has accepted the fact that we’re better if we’re more diverse,” Quinlan said.

Romin Iqbal, executive director of CAIR-Columbus, said he is pleased to hear Quinlan is open to reconsidering the hijab issue.

“We continue to believe that this ban is not fair and it is clearly discriminatory and it makes it difficult for the Columbus police to represent everybody,” Iqbal said.

There are companies that make athletic gear and equipment to accommodate hijabs and other head coverings that could provide options for female Muslim officers.

“There would still be uniformity,” Quinlan said. “It would probably be it’s option A and there’s no option B.”

He said there is some concern over whether an officer wearing a hijab would be fairly received by everyone within the community, but the chief said increasing cultural awareness warrants the discussion.

Quinlan said there is no definite timeline for revisiting the ban and that there are other priorities the division needs to address immediately, such as technology upgrades and redeployment of officers.

“It’s something I want to do, but it isn’t an immediate need as far as something that goes toward public safety and improving our service to the community,” he said.

But, he added, “Now’s the right time … I’ve never seen a rank and file more open to change and that want to see some things done differently.”

Iqbal said CAIR hopes to reach out to Quinlan this week.

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