Police: Arrest of gun-toting teens shows the danger is real

A loaded 9mm handgun Grand Rapids police say they found on a 14-year-old on April 21, 2017.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A 12-year-old, 14-year-old and 16-year-old are in juvenile detention accused of gun crimes while walking in a group on Grand Rapids’ southeast side.

It was a situation that bore similarities to one for which the Grand Rapids Police Department has faced stiff criticism after a tough month as they have borne of community criticism for a report that showed minorities are pulled over at an unjust rate and for an incident where police pulled guns on a group of unarmed teens.

It started March 24 when police responding to a report of armed teens led to them being detained at gunpoint by officers and made to lay on the ground. It turned out none of the young men had a gun.

The incident was video recorded and posted on social media, sparking outrage in the minority community. They claimed the actions of the police were based on race and were not proportionate to the situation.

A still image from a Grand Rapids Police Department body camera shows an officer pointing a gun at a group of boys as part of a search for an armed suspect. (March 24, 2017)

GRPD Police Chief David Rahinsky apologized, but said the officers acted professionally and the police union defended the officer’s actions.

“We have never, nor will we ever, fail in our duty to protect the public, given the information we are handed and the circumstances we find ourselves in,” union leaders wrote in a statement.

Friday afternoon, police received a call of six black teens shooting guns Near Oakdale Street SE and Blaine Avenue. Police found five juveniles there, but the sixth had run off, police say.

A couple blocks away on Kalamazoo Avenue, police spotted the 14-year-old matching the description jogging.

“We followed our normal procedures that we do with anyone that has a firearm, if they’re a juvenile or adult, we do the same process,” said GRPD Capt. Curt VanderKooi on Friday as the 9mm gun allegedly removed from the teen remained on the pavement.

Police drew down on the 14-year-old who admitted he had a gun and surrendered it without incident.

“We don’t know what they’re carrying, in this case, it’s very dangerous,” VanderKooi said. ”This gentleman, at 14 years old, is carrying a loaded 9mm semi-automatic handgun that is dangerous.”

The teens confessed quickly, police say.

“(The 16-year-old) fired and gave the weapon back to the 14-year-old, so we’re charging him with reckless discharge,” VanderKooi said. “The person that fired it said they shot up in the air.”

VanderKooi said the same procedure that has resulted in so much criticism — works.

“That person with a gun is in a group, we don’t know which one has a gun, so we follow procedures that keep our officers safe and also keep those that are the suspects safer, too,” VanderKooi said.

He said while it may be scary to have be at the business end of a police gun, there is a reason for it.

“We show force so that we don’t have to use force unless it’s necessary,” VanderKooi said.

The 16-year-old was arrested for reckless discharge of a firearm, the 14-year-old was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon and the 12-year-old was arrested for violating a city ordinance of possession of a firearm.

Saturday, Grand Rapids police told 24 Hour News 8 that they have taken seven guns from juveniles in the first 17 weeks of 2017.

Rhanisky said he will be holding open office hours again on Friday where citizens can talk directly to him about any concerns they have. The open office hours will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on April 28 at Grand Rapids Police Headquarters, located at 1 Monroe Center St NW.