A state Court of Appeals panel ruled that the Grand Rapids Police Department is allowed to gather photos and fingerprints to help identify people they stop.
Back in 2014, GRPD began fighting this case but the incidents in question go back to 2011 and 2012.
In both incidents, GRPD officers stopped unarmed black teens who had been engaging in what the officers considered suspicious behavior. Neither teen was charged with any crime.
Despite this ruling, the department says it will only get photos and fingerprints from people who are reasonably suspected of committing a crime.
Miriam Aukerman, lead attorney with the ACLU of Michigan, says this ruling doesn’t answer the most important question about the department’s policy.
“The question is do you have probable cause sufficient to arrest them? At that point fingerprinting is something that can take place as a part of the process of an arrest,” Aukerman said.
The policy doesn’t specify what reasonable suspicion is, but the department says it stopped getting fingerprints and photos from people who don’t fit this criteria back in 2015 back when David Rahinsky was the Chief of Police.
Sgt. John Wittkowski, the Public Information Officer for GRPD, says even though the department has a new chief, there are no plans to change the current photos and prints policy or go back to how things used to be.
Aukerman says about three quarters of these fingerprint and photo stops involved black subjects.
“So there’s really a real racial disparity in how this policy has been used in the past,” she said.