Sacramento, California: In a landmark legislation, the California State Legislature has unanimously passed a bill to train law enforcement personnel about Sikhs and the religious significance of ‘kirpans’. The legislation (AB 504) was unanimously passed by the California State Legislature. The bill moves to Governor Schwarzenegger, to sign it into law.
“AB 504 is an important bill that recognises the state’s responsibility to protect religious freedoms, while ensuring public safety,” said Assembly member Warren Furutani, who introduced the bill in the state legislature this year.“The Sikh community should not live in fear of arrest by law enforcement for carrying the kirpan,” he added.
The bill defines a kirpan as a blade that resembles a sword and is required for the practice of the Sikh faith.
While several police and sheriff’s departments have recognised the need for this type of training and have been conducting it on an ad hoc basis, the bill would standardise the process statewide, the legislation said.
The training would specifically advise officers “how to recognise and interact with persons carrying a kirpan.” The Sikh Coalition, a Sikh advocacy group, hailed the passage of the bill as a historic occasion.
“Should it become a law, this would be the first law pertaining to kirpan in the US,” the Sikh Coalition said.
It said the legislation arose out of a number of Sikhs being arrested for carrying kirpans because the police mistakenly believes them to be in violation of concealed weapons laws.
“Our hope is that being educated about kirpan and its religious significance will decrease the number of wasteful arrests,” the coalition said.
“Given Sikhs’ long history in California, as well as the fact that this state has the highest number of Sikhs nationwide, it is entirely appropriate that California take this pioneering step,” said Neha Singh, Western Region Director of the Sikh Coalition. “We hope that the education will help reduce the number of Sikhs needlessly being arrested for practicing their faith and focus the energy of law enforcement on actual threats to the public safety,” Singh said.
The bill requires the commission on peace officer standards and training within the Department of Justice to make available to all the law enforcement agencies training content on how to recognise and interact with persons carrying a kirpan, as specified.
It requires that the training content includes instruction on how arrests of Sikhs carrying a kirpan have historically been treated and the alternatives to those arrests and detentions that have successfully been used.