Las Vegas Sun

November 23, 2017

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Take your hats and pins off, Metro orders after officer’s complaint

In the wake of a religious discrimination complaint filed by one of its detectives, Metro Police has altered its policies on what types of clothes and service pins officers can wear.

In the revised department guidelines issued Tuesday, nonuniformed Metro officers were told that they were allowed to wear hats while outside or in a car, but had to take them off when entering any building.

In a separate policy change, Metro disallowed its officers from wearing any service pins from groups not directly related to an officer's operational unit.

That means they no longer can wear police union pins or pins recognizing membership in black, Latino or Christian officer associations.

These changes came in the wake of the Nevada Equal Rights Commission complaint filed recently by Detective Steve Riback, a 10-year veteran of the force and an Orthodox Jew.

Riback claimed that in the past several years, since he has become increasingly observant of his religion, his Metro superiors have not allowed him to express his faith by wearing a short beard and a yarmulke or any other type of head covering.

Police said proposed accommodations for Riback's religion were against policy and would present an "undue hardship" for Metro and have a "disruptive effect."

Metro's changed policy regarding service pins is of interest to Riback because, as his attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada noted in a recent Equal Rights Commission filing, the department had allowed its officers to wear pins from the International Fellowship of Christian Police Officers, which contained a picture of an open Bible.

Allowing officers to wear pins with an identifiable Christian symbol, while denying Riback the right to wear a yarmulke, a religious item required by his faith, was a discriminatory preference for Christianity, they claimed.

Riback's lawyers say the revisions are tacit admission of a disjointed policy, and concern, perhaps, about a federal civil rights suit the ACLU may file on Riback's behalf.

Gary Peck and Allen Lichtenstein, executive director and general counsel of the ACLU of Nevada , respectively, said the changes showed clumsiness and ham-handedness on the part of Metro.

"The timing of these changes gives the indication that the policy they were operating under was not a particularly coherent one," Lichtenstein said. "They're attempting to dig in their heels."

Liesl Freedman, Metro's general counsel, responded by saying that Metro did not issue the policy changes in response to Riback's complaint.

Instead, Freedman said that Metro "is always revisiting and revising our policies," and that the department had been looking at changing the policies in question for some time.