New policy lays out how GRPD must handle immigrants

Grand Rapids
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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids police cannot ask the immigration status of anyone who asks for their help, according to new guidelines released by the department.

The Grand Rapids Police Department released its new policy Friday for how to interact with foreign nationals. GRPD says the guidelines “ensure equal enforcement of the law and equal service to the public regardless of citizenship or immigration status.”

Under the rules, police cannot threaten to deport or verbally abuse anybody based on their immigration status or the status of their family. GRPD officers also cannot ask the immigration status of any person, or require that person to give them documented proof of their immigration status. The guidelines also prohibit police from stopping, questioning, investigating, searching, detaining or arresting anyone based on their immigration status.

The police department says there are exceptions to the rules “for legitimate law enforcement needs,” including consulate demands, information required by law, including background checks, and when immigration status is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.

The policy allows GRPD officers to help federal immigration authorities “when there is an emergency that poses an immediate danger to public safety or federal agents,” but lays out that Grand Rapids police are not responsible for enforcing federal immigration laws used to detain or deport undocumented immigrants.

GRPD says the policy is part of its strategic plan aimed at encouraging all people to talk to officers without fear.

The guidelines earned approval from the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

“This new policy recognizes that the police are here to serve everyone in the community,” Miriam Aukerman, ACLU of Michigan senior staff attorney said in a Friday news release. “Immigrants who need help from the police shouldn’t have to fear that if they call 911, they will lose their families and lives in America. This policy recognizes that when local police get involved in immigration enforcement, it undermines community trust, leads to racial profiling, and makes everyone less safe.” 

The guidelines come months after veteran Jilmar Ramos-Gomez was detained by federal agents after Grand Rapids Capt. Curt VanderKooi contacted the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Ramos-Gomez, a veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, was arrested in November for allegedly setting a fire inside Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital. ICE says he told agents he was in the country illegally, but he is a natural-born citizen. He was held by ICE for three days in December until his attorney proved that.

VanderKooi contacted ICE while off-duty without consulting anyone else at the department. He used the word “loco” to describe Ramos-Gomez in an email to federal officials. The Grand Rapids Police Department said that while an Internal Affairs investigation found VanderKooi was right to call ICE because of terrorism concerns, it also found his use of the word “loco” was unprofessional and he was counseled.

Then the city launched a review of whether VanderKooi was “properly held accountable” for his use of inappropriate language, during which time he was placed on leave. That investigation ultimately found no evidence VanderKooi violated the impartial policing policy, but the Grand Rapids Civilian Appeals Board reversed that decision in May.

Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington must now decide what punishment VanderKooi will face.

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