The New York Police Department (NYPD) will no longer remove the headgear of religious people – such as turbans, hijabs, kippahs or habits – when they take their mug shots, a new rule announced Monday.
The changed policy, which will take effect in 60 days, is the result of a class action lawsuit filed on March 16, 2018 by Arwa Aziz and Jamilla Clark, two Muslim women. The women said the NYPD’s policy of removing religious headgear violated their religious rights and left them in tears and shame after their separate encounters with police.
The agreement states that NYPD officers will now be trained to remove religious headgear from suspects only when there is reason to believe it is worn as a disguise. Officers must document each removal with paperwork and explain why. For three years, the NYPD will publish the paperwork every 12 months for an annual review by Aziz and Clark’s lawyers.
The settlement does not address the plaintiff’s monetary claims or additional outstanding attorney fees.
The New York-based data privacy group Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP) and the civil rights law firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP announced the settlement on Monday.
“This is a milestone for the privacy and religious rights of New Yorkers. No one should be forced to undress just to be fed into a facial recognition database,” STOP Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn said in a statement.
Cahn added that the NYPD must now “go one step further” by targeting “the thousands of New Yorkers who have been subjected to this illegal policy. Cahn said that STOP and the law firm mentioned are pursuing financial compensation for others affected by this policy.
The New York City legal department had originally argued that the policy of removing headgear was constitutional and met the police’s need for photographs of arrests.
“Individuals who do not wish to remove religious headgear in front of others have the option of being taken to a separate, more private facility to be photographed,” NYC Legal Department spokesman Nicholas Paolucci told The New York Times in 2018.
However, the publication said that the use of the private facility, which is located at the city’s police headquarters, was inconsistent and prolonged the detention of the suspects because they would have to be taken to a completely different facility just to have their pictures processed in police databases.
The city had previously settled three separate cases of Muslim detainees complaining about the NYPD’s policy of removing headgear in February 2018 by paying $60,000 each. But the 2018 settlement did not change the NYPD’s actual policy.
New York State law allows people to wear headgear while taking photographs for driver’s licenses as long as the coverings do not cast a shadow or cover their face. The State Department also does not require the removal of headgear for passport photos.