NYPD officer Masood Syed is back on the job after having been suspended for not shaving his beard last month.
According to NBC News, New York Police Department policy allows officers to have facial hair up to one millimeter in length. But when Syed, who wears a beard in keeping with his Islamic faith, attempted to have his picture taken for a new I.D. badge in June, he did not have the requisite paperwork that would have permitted him a longer beard. (There are accommodations for facial hair that can be granted by the department upon request, a December 2015 petition by 37 officers seeking official permission for longer beards was allegedly left unanswered.)
Instead, he was instructed by a supervisor to shave his face entirely—which he refused to do. Syed, a law clerk with the department, was subsequently relieved of his gun and badge, escorted out of police headquarters, and suspended without pay or benefits pending a future court date.
Police officials contend that the ban on beards longer than 0.04 inches is necessary for officers' safety, both in altercations with suspects, as well as ensuring equipment such as gas masks will fit properly. "We remain the No. 1 terrorist target in the world,” Lawrence Byrne, the NYPD's deputy commissioner for legal matters told the New York Times. “And we need to have all 36,000 of our officers able to respond."
Complicating matters is a history of inconsistent enforcement of the department's beard policy. Syed had reportedly kept his beard between 0.5 and 1 inches long for years without any problems before the incident in June. Speaking with the New York Post, Brooklyn patrol officer Rohail Kahlid, described as wearing a half-inch beard, explained, "It becomes an issue on and off. It depends on who’s the boss."
After his dismissal, Syed immediately sued the NYPD, alleging that the beard policy infringes upon the religious freedoms of officers. At an emergency hearing called 24 hours after the suit was filed, Judge P. Kevin Castel seemed to agree, ordering the NYPD to continue paying Syed's salary and leave his benefits untouched ahead of a July 8th court date—one from which, Castel reportedly predicted, Syed would likely emerge a winner.
It appears, however, that the July 8th date will no longer be necessary at all, after lawyers for Syed announced this week that their client had been "restored to full duty," and that the NYPD would be reexamining its facial hair policy.
In a statement made through his attorneys, Syed said:
It seems like the department has taken the crucial first step in addressing an important and growing concern of officers of many different faiths. I am hopeful that the department’s new policy will in fact allow myself and other officers to wear our beards at a reasonable length without the fear of retaliation or hostility.
Amazingly, Syed's lawsuit came three years after a court had already ruled against the NYPD in a different beard-related case. In 2012 probationary officer Fishel Litzman was fired for refusing to shave his one-inch beard, which he kept as an observant Jew. Litzman sued the NYPD, and in 2013 was reinstated with a religious accommodation to keep his facial hair.