indica News Bureau-
Sandeep Singh Dhaliwal, 42, the Harris County sheriff’s deputy who was shot dead late last month during a routine traffic stop, had joined the police force despite being dissuaded by family and friends, CNN reported.
BJ Josan, a childhood friend of the officer, recounted how Dhaliwal made up his mind one wintry day at their local gurdwara, after an encounter between a Sikh family and Harris County sheriff’s deputies had gone horribly wrong.
The family had called to report a burglary, but when deputies arrived and saw their kirpans, the ceremonial dagger a devout Sikh is enjoined to always carry on his person, they treated the family as if they were criminals.
When Adrian Garcia, newly elected Harris County sheriff, seeking to change perceptions, visited the gurdwara and appealed for young men to join the force and help to change it, Dhaliwal was there.
He turned to father Piara Singh Dhaliwal and said he would join. “I thought he had lost his mind,” recalled Josan. Law enforcement wasn’t a profession that Sikhs in Houston entered. Besides, Dhaliwal had his trucking and pizza businesses.
But Sandeep’s mind was made up, Piara Singh Dhaliwal told CNN. He was keen to make a difference in the city he had grown up in. And he did. Almost everyone in this part of Houston knew who he was. His turban and beard, markers of his faith, made him hard to miss.
Piara Singh Dhaliwal said people in the community told him law enforcement was dangerous and he should persuade Sandeep not to do it. But the father decided to support his son. Someone had to do the job, he reasoned.
The young man joined as a detention officer in 2009 and worked his way up to deputy, becoming the first Sikh deputy in the Harris County sheriff’s office, one of the country’s largest departments.
When he got permission in 2015 to wear his turban and beard as part of his uniform, it made headlines everywhere and paved the way for other Sikhs to join the police force.
Those closest to him said Sandeep Singh was a child at heart, an exceptional spirit, a friend to everyone and, in the words of one colleague, “a damn near saint”.
“We’ve had many law-enforcement officers who have paid a similar sacrifice and they were all good people,” said Garcia, the sheriff who had hired Dhaliwal and is now Harris County commissioner. “But I want people to understand that the things you are hearing about Sandeep are absolutely true.”
Serving in law enforcement as a turbaned Sikh had its challenges, but friends and colleagues say Dhaliwal took pride in his role, knowing that he was representing his community in a visible fashion.
“He wanted to show that a Sikh person with a turban is a symbol of someone who is there to provide service, to provide help whenever you need it,” Josan said. And it was his nature to defuse any strange look or rude question with a smile or a joke.
Garcia and others in the department encouraged him to seek a promotion that would earn him more responsibility and pay. He passed an exam to become a sergeant. But he didn’t want to be desk-bound. He was happy out in the community, interacting with people.
“I don’t want to sit in the office,” his father said Dhaliwal told him. “I don’t want to be a sergeant. Maybe next year.”
Dhaliwal had a special connection with everyone, Josan said, but especially kids. He went out of his way to talk to them, to make them feel special. He wanted to inspire them and make them to feel like they could count on him. “He knew how to interact with kids,” Josan said. “He was a big kid himself, always smiling.”