People who wear symbols of their faith will no longer be forced to remove their religious headwear—hijabs, yarmulkes, habits or turbans—to have their mugshots taken by the New York Police Department (NYPD), the privacy group Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.) announced on November 9.
The policy change is a result of a November 5 legal settlement between two Muslim women, Jamilla Clark and Arwa Aziz and the NYPD. Both women reported feeling shame in separate encounters with the NYPD in 2018 when they were forced to remove their hijabs in front of men in order to have their photos taken, according to the New York Times. In Islamic culture, it is customary for Muslim women to wear head coverings when in public. Now, any NYPD officer who questions or arrests a person who is wearing religious attire will have to “take [a] photograph of [the] prisoner with religious head covering in place,” according to the legal decision. If the head covering covers the face, like a burqa, it will have to be removed for a photo.
The @nytimes and 100+ others wrote about how we made the #NYPD end their "hijab removal" policy! Thanks to our co-counsel, @ecbawm, and our clients, @TurningPointNY, Jamilla Clark, and Arwa Aziz, for standing up for First Amendment rights. 1/3https://t.co/xGUlrMA2nC
rn— S.T.O.P.—Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (@STOPSpyingNY) November 10, 2020
In response to the policing policy changes, STOP’s executive director Albert Fox Cahn, who represented Clark and Aziz, said in a statement:
This is a milestone for New Yorkers’ privacy and religious rights. No one should be forced to undress just to be fed into a facial recognition database. New Yorkers are able to get a drivers’ license or passport while wearing the hijab, and there’s absolutely no reason for it to be removed by police. Now that the NYPD has agreed to end the policy, they still need to go a step further. That’s because this settlement doesn’t address the thousands of New Yorkers who were subjected to this unlawful policy. That’s why we’re still fighting in court to make sure the NYPD pays for the harm its already inflicted.
As Cahn continues to seek retribution for other victims, Patricia Miller, New York City Law Department special federal litigation chief, told the Associated Press that she saw the policy change as a model for the rest of the country. “It 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,” Miller told the AP.
According to the settlement, the new policy will go into effect within 60 days of the state’s current COVID-19 state of emergency lift. In addition to having to “provide a private space for searching and/or photographing arrestees who wear religious head covering[s],” officers in the department will receive new training and updates to their patrol guide.
To read the complete settlement document, click here.