Columbus Police Interim Chief Tom Quinlan says he is considering changing a department policy that forbids officers from wearing headscarves.
Quinlan says officers cannot currently wear headscarves because of safety concerns.
“Some of our concerns are, again, wearing gas masks, wearing proper headgear, giving someone something they can grab a hold of and pull someone around with,” Quinlan says.
In 2015, a Somali-American Muslim woman named Ismahan Isse dropped out of the Columbus Police academy because of the ban. At the time, then-Mayor Michael Coleman supported the policy.
“Coleman says when officers go out into the community they should be identified as Columbus Police officers, not Muslim police officers or members of any other religions,” reports an Associated Press article from 2015.
Quinlan says making an allowance for hijabi officers could potentially be problematic.
“It can be an issue of if we make an accommodation for a religious exception, then anyone else who has a religious exception, say they have to wear sandals for my religion,” Quinlan says. “Then do we want somebody out there as a police officer trying to run after somebody wearing flip flops?”
But Quinlan says it's necessary to at least examine the idea, especially if he wants to be a change agent for the city.
“Well, I’m looking at that right now,” Quinlan says. “And again, if I’m going to be committed to change and being progressive, that’s something I have to look at.”
Columbus has the second-largest concentration of Somali immigrants in the United States, with over 40,000 people. That's about half the population of Minneapolis-St. Paul. But research has found that, compared to the Twin Cities, Somali residents in Columbus face greater barriers to integration in politics and law enforcement.
Quinlan says he’s met with Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo at past meetings of the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association.
“We’ve had phone conversations and conference calls about what (Minneapolis) is experiencing,” Quinlan says.
He did not give a timeline on his decision.