Chicago Police Department Diversity Videos Educate Officers on Non-Christian Faiths (2005)

After the terror attacks of 9/11 there was an alarming number of incidents of violence across the United States against people who were perceived to be Muslim. In Chicago, Police Chief Terry Hillard held a multi-cultural forum to hear feedback from people of all religions on post-9/11 backlash. At these forums he learned that his officers were often ignorant about non-Christian faiths and were sometimes rude to people from these communities. Using a grant from the Justice Department and guidance from lay leaders and clergy in each religious community, the police department created a series of short videos to train their officers to be respectful of non-Christian faiths and to educate them on how to interact with people of all religions. The videos cover the basic information police need to know when working security at airports, visiting people's homes, entering religious centers, and when questioning witnesses or suspects.

The concise 10 minute videos, which have been shown to all Chicago police officers, educate officers about the Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu faiths. Every officer's day begins with a half hour "roll call" prior to hitting the street. This time is allotted for training either from people in the department or using streaming video presentations on topics ranging from officer safety to showing courtesy to the public. The short but thorough videos were easily integrated into the officers' daily routine making it possible to show the videos to everyone on the force. Each video provides a brief summary of the religion's belief system in addition to a description of worship practices and information on how to act respectfully when interacting with people of each faith tradition. Chaplain Dean of the Chicago police force narrates each segment and representatives of each community explain how police can perform their job while being respectful of members of their faith.

In addition to the increase in hate crimes, the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent "War on Terror" led to increased security at airports, transportation centers, and government buildings. One video segment focuses specifically on what security personnel working at Chicago airports need to know when dealing with Sikh and Muslim passengers.


This was the first video segment produced because Sikhs were the targets of much violence after 9/11 largely due to the turban worn by men (and some women). The video begins by explaining that Sikhism is a monotheistic faith revealed through Sikh gurus; it is not a blend of other faiths. The video then provides a brief history of Sikhism and explains the 5 articles of faith which Sikhs are required to wear at all times: kirpan (ceremonial sword), kara (steel bracelet), kachera (undergarments), kanga (comb), and keshas (uncut hair).

The kirpan causes the most misunderstandings because it is a small sword and can be perceived as a weapon. Chaplain Dean explains that the kirpan is not a weapon but symbolizes Sikhs' commitment to justice and human rights. Carrying the kirpan is allowed by state and municipal law as long as it is not concealed. The straightforward explanation of the religious significance of a kirpan and the laws surrounding it is a perfect example of the pragmatic approach all the videos take in explaining faith traditions.

Chaplain Dean explains that many Sikh homes have a room set aside for prayer where the holy book is kept. When responding to a call a police officer should be respectful of this room and, if possible, remove shoes upon entering. Officers should also avoid contact with the holy book. A Sikh house of worship is called a gurdwara and when entering a police officer should remember four guidelines: remove your shoes, cover your head, do not smoke, and do not touch the holy book.


The Islam video begins with a brief description of the faith calling it "a religion of peace, submission and commitment to one God." One-fifth of the world's population is Muslim and in Chicago there are 400,000 Muslims. The largest number of Muslims in Chicago are African-American followed by Muslims from South Asia. The video emphasizes that a minority of Muslims in Chicago are Arab; there are Muslims of every color and nationality and Islam is not an ethnicity. This brief introduction helps dispel some of the misconceptions about Muslims which arose after the attacks of 9/11. The video also explains key words every officer should be familiar with such as mosque, imam, Qur'an, and Allah.

In every video Chaplain Dean notes the day of the week when people of each faith tradition worship. This information will help officers plan non-emergency visits to houses of worship. For example Muslims pray on Friday afternoons so Chaplain Dean encourages officers to avoid the prayer period from 12 PM until 2 PM. Each video also explains what actions officers should take upon entering a worship space. In a mosque one should always remove his or her shoes. Because many non-Christian traditions have rules regarding personal contact, especially between men and women, the videos explain what sort of greetings are suitable. When meeting Muslims, shaking hands is not appropriate. Out of modesty Muslims will often avoid eye contact with a person of the opposite gender. This should not be interpreted as an indicator of guilt by officers.

The video explains that modesty is highly valued in the Islamic faith and women are expected to cover their heads with a hijab (head scarf) out of respect to God. Not all women wear the hijab, however, and police officers need to be sensitive about touching women even if a hijab is not worn. If possible women officers should question female witnesses and search female suspects. If an officer is questioning a suspect of the opposite gender they should not be alone in a room together with the door closed. During a search, if the hijab must be removed, the woman should be allowed to do this in a private place with a woman officer.

Each video attempts to dispel common misconceptions about non-Christian faiths. In the Islam video a young female doctor is shown at the hospital where she works. She explains that the hijab is not a form of oppression and that not all Muslim women are submissive. This is an example of how the videos aim to dispel common misconceptions about people of non-Christian faiths by showing them in everyday situations to which the audience can relate. In each video families are shown within their homes practicing their faith, but also participating in ordinary activities such as cooking or playing games.


This video begins by explaining the three main denominations of Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. This video focuses primarily on interactions with Orthodox and Hasidic Jews because they observe Jewish law and perform rituals which may be unfamiliar to many officers.

Just as the Sikh video addresses the turban and the Islam video explains the hijab this video also addresses head coverings. Members of the Jewish community explain that police should be sensitive when asking a man to remove his yarmulke. Some will not object to removing it in public while others would prefer to only do it in a private place. Hasidic women will often wear a head covering such as a scarf or a wig. If it is necessary for a woman to remove her head covering it should be done in a private place with a female officer. When introducing oneself to Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, handshaking is not acceptable between people of opposite genders. As with Muslims people of the opposite gender should not be alone in the same room with the door closed.

On Shabbat (sunset on Friday until an hour after sunset on Saturday) observant Jews do not carry anything with them including a wallet or keys. If they are stopped by an officer they may not have any I.D. with them. They also will not move a car even if it is illegally parked. If the car must be moved an officer can offer to move it for them. On Shabbat observant Jews will not ride in a police car or ambulance unless it is an emergency.


This video opens with an image of chanting Buddhist monks in saffron robes. Chaplain Dean says this is what many people envision when they think of Buddhists, but Buddhists are actually found in every country in the world and there are Buddhists of every race. In Chicago there are 150,000 Buddhists and 60 temples. The video explains Buddha was a human who attained enlightenment. He is not a god. For Buddhists there is no mandatory day of worship but many temples are especially busy on Sundays.

When entering a temple an officer should remove his or her shoes. Buddhist monks and nuns should be greeted with hands pressed together and a nod, but it is acceptable to shake hands with Buddhist lay people. Because there are Buddhists of every race and ethnic background, police need to be aware of an individual's cultural background when they enter his or her home. For example a caucasian American-born Buddhist may wear shoes within their home, whereas a Buddhist from East Asia would not. Police should look for clues like whether there are shoes placed outside the front door. Chaplain Dean encourages officers to ask their hosts what action is appropriate in any situation where they are unsure. The members of each faith community indicate in all of the videos that they are happy to educate people who are unfamiliar with their tradition.


This video begins by explaining that Hinduism is the world's oldest religion and that there are 80,000 Hindus in Chicago. Most, but not all, are Indian. As with the Sikhism and Islam videos, this video attempts to dispel a common misconception about the Hindu faith. A member of the Chicago Hindu community explains that Hindus are not polytheistic; they believe in one supreme god who has many manifestations. Most Hindu temples are open every day and Hindus generally do not go to a temple to hear a sermon but for darshan (viewing of the gods).

When officers enter a temple they should keep the following in mind: only priests are allowed to touch the statues of deities, you should not take pictures, it is not necessary to cover your head, you should always remove your shoes, and if passing something to another person try to avoid using your left hand. To greet someone press your hands together and give a slight bow. The traditional greeting is "Namaste."

All of the videos explain that some members of these faith traditions are recent immigrants. Officers need to be aware of a individual's cultural and religious background when interacting with him or her. For example recent immigrants and visitors from India may appear fearful of police because they are unaccustomed to seeing police carry guns. Buddhists from South East Asia or Russian Jews may be fearful of police due to the political situations in their home country. Officers should not interpret these behaviors as indicators of guilt or as signs of being uncooperative.

Security, Diversity, Respect

This video gives airport security personnel the information they need to treat passengers with respect while still performing the necessary security procedures. It addresses the appropriate way to search a Sikh man who is wearing a turban and how to respectfully search Muslim women.

A representative of the Coalition for Sikh Awareness explains that a turban is not simply a head covering but an article of faith which takes 15 to 30 minutes to put on. It is offensive to ask a man or woman to remove their turban unless a search is legally justified. If the turban must be removed for a search, or even patted down, he or she should be taken to a private area, if possible.

A representative of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago explains how to be respectful of a Muslim woman if a search is necessary. If the woman is wearing the hijab and it must be removed she should be taken to a private place when possible. A female officer should perform the search because Islamic law prohibits a Muslim woman from having her head uncovered in front of men who are not part of her family.

The video encourages officers to treat everyone equally and with respect while remaining serious about protecting security. The Sikh and Muslim representatives in the film say that as Americans they are as concerned about safety as everyone else. They do not mind security procedures as long as they are treated respectfully and not singled out by officers.


The videos have been a great success and over 50 police departments across the country have requested copies. The department is now working on creating similar videos for the many ethnic groups which live in Chicago. The video about people from East Asia is complete and a video about Latin Americans and Puerto Ricans is planned.

Kareem M. Irfan, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago says "This is not just a superficial thing. It has changed our community's relationship with the police to the extent that people are beginning to see the Chicago Police Department as an ally rather than an opposing force."

Due to the high volume of requests the Chicago Police Department is turning over distribution to an outside vendor. The distribution arrangement will be finalized in October 2005. Contact department for details.