Leicestershire Police have expressed their ‘disappointment’ at ‘inaccurate’ press coverage of their uniform policy. On September 22, the Sun’s bombastic headline read ‘More burkas on the beat’ in response to claims that Leicestershire Police may allow Muslim officers to wear the burqa.
The Sun’s article incorrectly stated that the force “would have to consider”any such request. Yet, the original statement from Leicestershire Police made no such claim. As their statement made clear:
We have been made aware of discussions in other police forces regarding incorporating burkahs into police uniform. It is not something that Leicestershire Police has been asked to consider by an officer or by a police recruit. If such a request was made, it would be considered in line with the requirements of policing and the need to ensure officers have uniforms that are fit for purpose. [Our emphasis].
The journalist contradicts this claim further into the article by quoting from the above statement. Nor did Leicestershire Police mention the niqab in their statement. But this was still inserted in the Sun’s article.
Days later, Chris Roycroft-Davis opined in the Daily Express that “Sometimes a smile can disarm a violent suspect but not if it’s invisible. When police go undercover they don’t mean under that sort of cover“.
The ‘outrage’ followed news earlier this month that West Midlands Police would consider a similar approach to uniform. But the original question put to both forces was nothing more than hypothetical.
Chief Constable David Thompson, of West Midlands Police, said: “Clearly we don’t have any barriers relating to that (the burka). As it stands we have not had any approaches from potential recruits asking to wear the burka, but if such an approach was made it is something we would have to consider.”
As the with the statement from Leicestershire Police: “It is not something that Leicestershire Police has been asked to consider by an officer or by a police recruit”.
Detective Chief Constable Nick Baker, of Staffordshire Police, made clear that no member of staff has made such a request.
No serving Muslim police officer or potential recruit has requested to wear the burqa while on duty. This bears repeating.
Perhaps this reliance on a stock image demonstrates that the burqa is far removed from the daily lives of many Muslims in Britain. This caricature reduces the complexities of religious identity and does little to further religious literacy. Yet, the original MailOnline article about the burqa and West Midlands Police gained 31,000 online shares. It stands to reason that this was not about the uniform policy of West Midands Police. But rather what the burqa is ‘meant’ to represent. As our annual report notes, a woman’s hijab can become a universal symbol of ‘Muslimness’. This would extend to the ideological perceptions attached to the burqa.