HOLLAND (AP) The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that Hope College police officers deputized by the Ottawa County Sheriff”s Department can enforce laws off campus.

Ottawa County Assistant Prosecutor Jon Hulsing said the ruling is “a hugely important decision” for the sheriff”s office.

“This is the first appellate opinion we have addressing this issue,” Hulsing told The Grand Rapids Press for a story yesterday. “From that perspective, it”s important.”

Local judges ruled earlier that Hope police can be deputized and enforce laws beyond the campus bounds.

A motorist convicted of drunken driving challenged that assertion and appealed to the higher court.

Motorist David Lee VanTubbergen argued that the relationship between the sheriff”s department and college”s Department of Public Safety violated constitutional protections that separate church and state.

But in an opinion issued Wednesday, the appellate court in Lansing decided that the arrangement is legal and denied VanTubbergen”s appeal. Judges Richard Griffin, Hilda Gage and Patrick Meter signed the ruling.

Hope police arrested VanTubbergen on July 15, 1997, in Holland while the two officers were driving from one college-owned property to another.

Holland District Judge Hannes Meyers Jr. rejected defense motions to suppress evidence arising from the arrest and convicted VanTubbergen in a bench trial. Ottawa County Circuit Judge Edward Post later affirmed the ruling.

Defense attorney Donald Hann argued that Hope College police officers were not authorized to make traffic stops and arrest anyone off college property. It violates state and federal constitutions, he said.

Hann also argued that using employees of a religious school Hope is affiliated with Reformed Church in America had the effect of improperly advancing religion because “knowing their paycheck comes from a Christian college could greatly affect the (officers”) actions” and “allowing a Christian college to become a public police force is an excessive entanglement.”

But the appeals court found “no intent on the part of the government to either aid, promote, restrict, hinder or otherwise affect religion or any religious organization.”

It said the danger of Hope officers intentionally or inadvertently imposing personal religious beliefs was minimal.

The officers are bound by state laws, not college rules, while off campus, the appeal court ruled.

Hann said he wasn”t surprised that his appeal was denied but expressed concern that the ruling gives sheriff”s departments sweeping powers.

“It allows people who are paid by non-governmental agencies to enforce the law,” he said.

Hulsing said the Legislature intended to give sheriffs the power to deputize.

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