By Christina Hall, Detroit Free Press
Sept. 22–Resisting or obstructing a reserve police officer in Michigan isn’t a crime, according to a recent Michigan Court of Appeals ruling that at least one statewide law enforcement official says will have “huge ramifications for public safety.”
The appellate court ruled 2-1 in a Livingston County case that reserve police officers are not police officers under the state’s resisting and obstructing statute. The court said reserve officers are not specifically mentioned in the law and therefore are not covered by it.
Livingston Prosecutor William Vailliencourt said he disagrees with the opinion and plans to file an appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court.
“We hope (the ruling) gets appealed. If it doesn’t, we’ll look to alter the legislation as soon as possible,” said Robert Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. “This will be an issue across the state.”
“For some parts of the state, reserve police officers are instrumental in protecting the public and it’s not just small cities,” he said, adding that larger cities, such as Detroit and Livonia, use reserve police officers.
“They’re counted on in these days when we can’t afford to hire as many full-time officers,” Stevenson said.
Vailliencourt said there could be other statutes that protect reserve police officers, but those officers also should be covered under the law, which essentially makes it a felony for someone to resist a lawful command by an officer performing his or her duties.
“Those police officers are still entitled to the protection of this law while they are serving their communities in this critical function,” he said.
The decision affirmed two lower courts’ dismissal of a resisting charge against Ryan Scott Feeley, who in 2014 was accused of failing to follow a Brighton reserve police officer’s command when the officer responded with a full-time officer to a report of a bar fight.
Feeley allegedly was causing problems and ran when the reserve police officer approached to speak with him. The reserve police officeridentified himself as a police officer and ordered Feeley to stop.
Feeley stopped on the second command to stop, told the reserve officer “(expletive) you,” while reaching behind his back. Fearing Feeley had a weapon, the reserve officer drew his gun and ordered him to the ground. Feeley complied and was taken into custody.
A district court judge denied the prosecution’s request to send the resisting charge to circuit court on the grounds a reserve police officer was not covered under the statute.
The statute defines a police officer, including those at colleges or universities, a sheriff or deputy, constable or firefighter. It does not specifyreserve police officer among those persons whose lawful orders must by obeyed in order to avoid criminal liability, according to the ruling.
The prosecution appealed, and the circuit court affirmed the district court decision. The prosecution took the matter to the state appellate court, which ruled the statute doesn’t apply to a reserve police officer.
“The prosecution and the dissent make reasonable policy arguments in support of their view that the failure to obey a properly supervisedreserve police officer should result in some level of criminal liability,” the opinion states. “However, the decision whether to criminalize such actions and, if so, what sanctions to impose, is a matter reserved for the Legislature.”
Judge David H. Sawyer dissented, saying he doubted the Legislature intended to exclude reserve police officers from the coverage of the statute. He said if the majority’s rational is logical, then this would exclude a number of jurisdictions that use public safety departments rather than police because public safety is not included in the statute.
Stevenson said the ruling certainly limits the authority reserve police officers would have.
“They can’t make an arrest. If someone ignores them, they can’t charge them with resisting. It’s going to limit their effectiveness, definitely,” he said.
Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said he didn’t know all the facts of the Livingston County case and appellate court opinion, but said depending on how reserve police officers are used, it “would make a big difference.”
He said his agency has about 270 reserve officers, who have guns and badges, but do not get arrest powers unless they are working in conjunction with a full-time officer. The exception would be marine safety officers, who can enforce marine law, pull over boats and issue citations, Wickersham said.
“They are extra eyes and ears,” he said of reserve police officers. “We use them for looking for a force multiplier. A lot of departments use them for patrol or calls for service. For the most part, ours do not ride in the cars.”
Oakland County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Joseph Quisenberry said he had not read the appellate ruling, but said it sounds “interesting and intriguing.”
He said the sheriff and undersheriff were out of the office today, but he thought the office would want to determine if it needs to take an immediate position or fine-tune how reserve officers are used.
Quisenberry said he believed the office had more than 100 reserve police officers who go through a reserve academy and are used in conjunction with full-time officers and for special details, such as traffic and crowd control, under the supervision of full-time officers.
Howell Police Chief George Basar said the ruling essentially “declares open season” on reserve officers.
Livingston Daily Press & Argus reporter Lisa Roose-Church contributed to this report.
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