If the Columbus Police Division doesn’t change its policy banning head scarves for female Muslim officers, Ismahan Isse might have a couple of options outside Ohio.
The Edmonton Police Service in Alberta, Canada, has reached out to Isse, the 29-year-old Somali-American who said she dropped out of the Columbus police academy this year because she was prohibited from wearing her head scarf, or hijab.
The Dispatch wrote about Isse last week, and Staff Sgt. Mark Farnell, an Edmonton police recruiter, read about her dilemma online.
He said Edmonton police designed a uniform for Muslim women that includes the head scarf.
“She really wanted to be a police officer,” Farnell said. “Why not touch base (and) see if she is interested in coming to Canada and take a look?
“She’s a great potential applicant to us.”
Edmonton has a growing Somali community and is looking to update its police force to better reflect the city’s diversity, Farnell said. It currently has no Somali police officers.
Isse said she spoke to Farnell on Friday.
“I’m actually considering (the offer) strongly,” she said.
She said she also was contacted by a representative of the Somali-American Police Association in Minneapolis. The Minneapolis-St. Paul area has the largest Somali population in the country. Columbus is No. 2.
But Isse, who has an associate degree in criminal justice and works as a temporary office worker for a logistics company, said she would prefer to stay in Columbus.
She said that she did not wear her hijab during her four months at the academy. She wore it during background interviews, she said, and the detective who interviewed her said she could not wear it during training.
Columbus police officials have said that head scarves are not allowed for safety reasons and because officers should have a uniform look. However, Mayor Michael B. Coleman has asked his safety officials to re-examine the policy.
The Police Division’s concerns can be easily addressed by modifying the color and style of head scarves worn by Muslim women, said Romin Iqbal, staff attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Ohio chapter.
Iqbal said the city should re-examine its policy of addressing religious accommodations in all of its departments, for everyone. The same would go for Christian crosses, Sikh turbans or Jewish yarmulkes, he said.
“It’s about more than just one woman and the police department,” he said.
Iqbal said he sent a letter to Coleman and to Napoleon Bell, executive director of the city’s Community Relations Commission, last week, urging them to enact suitable regulations to address religious-accommodation requests, even if Isse’s situation is worked out.
He said his group also wants to start a similar conversation with Franklin County officials and those in central Ohio suburbs.
“This is about helping the city and other local governments, not being adversarial,” Iqbal said.
Bell said he wants to know what other cities are doing.
“We want to have a very diverse police force that is reflective of our community,” he said. “ We want to look at all opportunities to employ the best and brightest and persons from all backgrounds.”