Mich. appeals court decision viewed as victory for opening campus police records

MICHIGAN — After a five-year legal battle, a state appealscourt ruled last month that law enforcement officials at privatecolleges can be deputized by local sheriff’s departments, givingthem the authority to enforce the law both on and off campus.

The decision, handed down in January by the Michigan Courtof Appeals, appears to give student journalists increased accessto records of arrests carried out by campus police, said DawnPhillips Hertz, general counsel for the Michigan Press Association.It sets a precedent for colleges and universities throughout thestate.

Included in the Michigan v. VanTubbergen decision isa reference to the fact that deputized police officers must filereports with the sheriff’s office on arrests they make in theircapacity as deputized officers.

"I think it means that there might be more access, ultimately,as a result of this," Hertz said. "And it says ‘in everysuch circumstance’ — I mean if they arrested somebody on campus,that would have to be reported. I don’t see this as cutting backaccess, I see it as a chance to get more."

The ruling came about after David Lee VanTubbergen, who wasarrested by two Hope College police officers in Holland, Mich.,in July 1997 and charged with drunken driving, challenged theofficers’ authority to do so since they were off campus when thearrest occurred.

VanTubbergen also challenged the ability of the local OttawaCounty Sheriff’s Department to deputize the officers, claimingit violated the constitutional mandate for the separation of churchand state. Hope College is affiliated with the Reformed Churchof America.

Both a state district court and the appellate court rejectedVanTubbergen’s claims and upheld the right of the Ottawa CountySheriff’s Department to deputize officers at Hope College andnearby Grand Valley State University, and the rights of thoseofficers to make arrests off campus.

Ottawa County Assistant Prosecutor Jon H. Hulsing called thedecision "tremendously important" to maintaining deputizedcampus officers to "augment general and regular law enforcement."Campus police officers are commonly deputized by local sheriff’sdepartments to assist police departments with small staffs, hesaid.

"The sheriff has chosen to give those campus officersfull authority outside of their jurisdiction so they have theauthority of a regular full-time sheriff’s deputy," Hulsingsaid, adding that while deputized campus officers are fully certifiedby the state, they are not paid by the state or county.

Donald Hann, VanTubbergen’s lawyer, said he did not plan toappeal the appellate court’s ruling.

Cite: People v. VanTubbergen, 2002 WL 84258 (Mich. App. 1/22/02)

A copy of the decision is available from the Michigan Court of Appeals. (Download Adobe Acrobat Reader, necessary to view the decision on your computer.)