Zeena Ali is to become the first police officer in New Zealand to wear the new police-issued hijab as part of her uniform when she graduates this week.
Ali, 30, even worked with police to design the garment. She told the New Zealand Herald the design process started even before she started at Police College, with her trialling various materials and styles and offering recommendations and improvements.
“It feels great to be able to go out and show the New Zealand Police hijab as part of my uniform,” she said. “I think that seeing it, more Muslim women will want to join as well.”
Ali decided to join the police after the deadly Christchurch terror attack against mosques which left 51 Muslims dead.
“One of the security guards I worked with was going to join the police and she asked me to help her,” she said. “As I started that process the Christchurch terror attack happened and that’s when I realised more Muslim women were needed in the police, to go and support people with things like this. If I had joined the police earlier I would have been down there to help.”
She said she was proud to represent the Muslim community – particularly women – and hoped to inspire others to join the police and help broaden the demographic of the front line.
“It’s great – the police went out of their way to make sure the hijab I have on meets health and safety requirements as well as my own personal needs,” she explained. “They worked closely with the Massey Design School, they came and visited me and we made tweaks to the hijab. I am proud to wear it and I hope other people out there will be proud of me as well.”
Ali said she appreciated police considering her personal needs – both at college and in her role going forward.
“At college they had a prayer room and halal meals,” she said. “When I had to go swimming they were ok with me wearing long sleeves.”
Valuing diversity is one of the six core values for the New Zealand police – alongside professionalism, respect, integrity, empathy and commitment to Māori and the Treaty of Waitangi.
“We recognise the value different perspectives and experiences bring to making us better at what we do,” the police said. “We need people with a range of skills, backgrounds and experience levels – diversity is essential so that we can effectively serve the needs of New Zealand’s communities now and in the future.”
“I think it’s great,” Ali told the Herald. “And we need more Muslim women to help in the community, most of them are too scared to talk to the police and would probably shut the front door if a man turned up to talk to them.
“If we have more women turning up, a more diverse front line, then we can reduce more crime.”