Former SWAT operators, detectives, undercover cops, homicide investigators, gang investigators, highway patrol, former military: These are just some of the diverse backgrounds of the University Police officers at BYU, according to officer Carlos Acosta and Chief Larry Stott.
“The depth of talent here is incredible,” Acosta said.
Acosta went on to say it isn’t just police background and training that make the BYU campus police unique.
“One of our guys has adopted about 13 kids — handicapped kids, kids that no one else really wanted,” Acosta said. “We had a guy that went to war in Afghanistan and was blown up by a (bomb). He was honored here at a football game. Almost everyone has a degree, if not advanced degrees. We have three or four professors that go teach at UVU or other places. I can’t even tell you how many languages we speak.”
There are 30 full-time and 10 part-time University Police officers on the BYU campus. But it seems BYU students have little idea about how these officers came to BYU and where they came from.
BYU students and alumni said the BYU police officers are retired but experienced.
“(They’re) older, potentially retired cops who wanted to leave a normal city force but not the profession,” said BYU graduate Lindsey Gingrich.
BYU senior Anne Dansie said she has had positive interactions with University Police.
“They’re really nice and friendly,” Dansie said. “I have been friends with some of them, and I think they are great.”
Yet Dansie had some questions about their role on campus.
“Is BYU really their first choice?” Dansie said. “Are they as experienced as the cops out on the street?”
Stott has been chief of police at BYU for 17 years. He said University Police officers are “the best of the best.”
“They’re experienced, stable men and women,” Stott said.
Stott said he won’t hire anyone who hasn’t had experience with another agency.
“We’re taking the very best from other departments,” Stott said. “Usually they’ve had 20–22 years of experience.”
University Police officer Carlos Acosta has been at BYU for about a year. He said he loves the campus community and said the police department as a whole is amazing.
Acosta said he remembers always wanting to pursue law enforcement as a career.
“My earliest memories are playing either cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers,” Acosta said. “I’ve always wanted to be a firefighter or a police officer. I wanted to serve people and my country.”
Acosta’s family moved overseas when he was very young. Acosta said he remembers seeing several people killed when he was 10 years old.
“I remember the feelings I felt: not being in control, fear, what if they’re coming for me?” Acosta said. “Those emotions and experiences became my foundation and solidified what I wanted to do.”
From that point on, Acosta sought opportunities in law enforcement. He came to BYU as a student and worked as a security employee. When he went home for Christmas, his family was living in Spain. Acosta called the embassy there and asked if they had an internship program.
“The man there told me they didn’t have one,” Acosta said. “He encouraged me, but told me (my internship) wouldn’t be with them.”
That summer, things changed for Acosta. The embassy’s security officer was diagnosed with cancer. They asked Acosta to shadow the officer, write down policies and procedures and help with translation. After just a few days of training, the security officer passed away and Acosta was given his job.
“That is absolutely unheard of,” Acosta said. “It was the chance of a lifetime.”
Acosta was a police officer in Las Vegas for years before coming to BYU. He said he was prompted by the Spirit to apply for a job with the University Police.
“I don’t know why they picked me,” Acosta said. “But there is something special here.”
Acosta said he feels humbled to be around such “great guys” at University Police.
“They chose to come here, even though they’re done with their careers,” Acosta said. “They came to serve. We love it. That’s why we all became police officers.”
Acosta said it’s “a gift” to deal with other officers that have the same religious goals, background and aspirations.
“Most of these guys are in bishoprics or high councils or stake presidencies (of the LDS Church),” Acosta said. “It’s pretty neat to be involved with guys like that 24/7.”
Sergeant Elle Martin is currently the only female officer at BYU. She has been with the University Police for seven years.
Before becoming a police officer, Martin worked in a hospital emergency room.
“It bothered me that Provo only had one female officer at the time, especially with all the sexual assaults that required a police officer to respond,” Martin said.
Martin made an appointment with the mayor of Provo City to ask why there were not more female officers. According to Martin, he said, “Because I haven’t had any good ones apply.”
Martin said she enrolled in the police academy almost immediately after that. After working for Provo Police for six and a half years, Martin wanted to work for BYU. She said she kept in contact with Chief Stott, and when there was an opening, she applied.
“Every one of us loves our jobs,” Martin said. “I call the students ‘my kids.’ I love my kids up here. They really become a part of who we are as officers.”
Martin works with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. She said one of her favorite parts of her job is when women learn to raise their voices when boundaries are crossed.
“Seeing the transformation come from the young ladies that have had some serious problems with relationships is really great,” Martin said. “Seeing them becoming empowered — that is a success right there.”
Stott said he thinks success in the police department comes from establishing a relationship with students.
“If they can call us when they’re in trouble, if they trust us enough, then we know we’re doing something right,” Stott said.
However, Stott said he knows some students do not like University Police.
“There are all kinds of feelings about police,” Stott said. “Of course, from time to time, those feelings will come out.”
Stott said University Police try to identify with people and work through any issues.
“We want people to have a positive experience with us,” Stott said.
Acosta said he deals with preconceived notions about police officers every day.
“When you encounter me, if you’ve had negative experiences in the past with law enforcement, I can only do what I can to change it,” Acosta said. “I try to make encounters positive and lighthearted. I want people to say, ‘He wasn’t angry and mad, he just asked me to do better.'”
Acosta said the most important reason he is at BYU is to protect the students.
“I want to be one to step in front of the bullets, help protect the kids,” Acosta said. “I don’t need the money, and I don’t like being away from my family, but I don’t want to miss that opportunity. I’m hunting for the wolf amongst my sheep.”