Varinder Khun Khun, along with two other officers, graduated from the Napa Police Academy on June 11. He is one of 33 officers hired by the department so far this year.
Khun Khun has lived in Ceres for the past 10 years, previously lived in the Bay Area and was born in India.
He said he long wanted to be a police officer but didn’t know if he would be allowed to wear his turban and beard in accordance with the Sikh religion.
“I’ve never seen police officers wearing a turban before; I didn’t know if I would get a chance (to be a police officer) … I am thankful for MPD giving me the opportunity,” Khun Khun said before the swearing-in ceremony in the basement chambers of 1010 Tenth Street in Modesto.
The Modesto Police Department’s grooming policy requires officers be clean shaven, allowing only for a mustache that extends to the edge of the lip.
Khun Khun approached Police Chief Galen Carroll a year ago about applying for the job and the requirement that he have a beard and wear a turban.
“I told him that that didn’t matter, that we would make accommodations for his religious beliefs and that, more importantly, we were looking for people with high character standards and he would be an addition to the Police Department as a segment of the community that is not represented in the Police Department,” Carroll said. “You want to have a police department that mirrors the community as much as possible. When you call an officer and nobody looks like you … you don’t feel like they can understand you or relate to you, so it is important to have that so you build stronger ties with the community.”
In 2012, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that added to California’s Fair Employment Act protection against discrimination for religious dress and grooming practices.
In April, three U.S. Army enlistees won permission to wear beards and turbans after filing federal lawsuits that seek to force the Pentagon to accommodate those who wear beards for religious purposes, according to The Associated Press.
Khun Khun said he wouldn’t have taken the job if he was required to shave or forbidden to wear a turban.
The Sikh religion originated in the 15th century in the Punjab region of India and Pakistan. In the United States, the faith dates back about 100 years, according to Bee archives, and the first Sikh temple in the nation is in Stockton. The Central Valley has the largest Sikh community in the country.
Carroll said he hopes Khun Khun will be “the trailblazer that may bring more Sikh officers and other people who are interested that think they can’t be officers.”
Also sworn in and recognized on Tuesday were:
▪ Jared Silva, who graduated from the Napa Police Academy. He graduated magna cum laude from Fresno State University. He is the son the Chief Probation Officer Jill Silva.
▪ Daniel Hammer, who graduated from the Napa Police Academy, where he received the top academic award. He previously served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps.
▪ James Shackleford, who came to the Modesto Police Department as a lateral-transfer police officer. He previously worked at the Stanislaus County and Calaveras County sheriff’s departments.
▪ Aaron Tait was promoted to lieutenant. He has worked for the Modesto Police Department since 1998. He has supervised the Stanislaus County Auto Theft Task Force, Crime Reduction Team and the Traffic Unit, among other assignments.
▪ Darline Kasper joined the Modesto Police Department as a clerk. She began as a volunteer in the Investigations Division.
▪ Jillane Blakeley joined the Modesto Police Department as a clerk. She previously worked for the Stanislaus Foundation for Medical Care for 19 years.