BYU police decertification delayed

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University Police officers gather in 2016 for training. BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said there will be an administrative hearing fall 2019 in regards to University Police decertification. Jenkins said since the hearing process will still be underway, the Sept. 1 decertification date will not go into effect. (Mark A. Philbrick/BYU Photo)

When the Utah Commissioner of Public Safety announced plans earlier this year to decertify the BYU police department, effective Sept. 1., BYU released a statement saying it disagreed with the state’s decision and planned to appeal it.

BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins told the Daily Universe there will be an administrative hearing fall 2019 in regards to the decertification.

She also said since the hearing process will still be underway, the Sept. 1 decertification date will not go into effect. She has not returned a request for clarification on if the state has agreed to not decertify the BYU Police Department during the legal proceedings, or if the university itself has the authority to delay the certification.

Sgt. Nick Street, public information officer for the Utah Department of Public Safety, confirmed if BYU submitted an appeal, the decertification date would be extended. He also said the new decertification date would be decided at the hearing by the judge.

A March 22 Q&A addressing several commonly asked questions about the decertification decision states University Police has only received a notice of intent and an official decision will be made through legal proceedings.

University Police Lt. Steven Messick said the department has heard “absolutely nothing” about university plans to challenge the decertification notice.

“This is being handled above the police department with the attorneys and stuff at BYU, and there just hasn’t really been any communication after our response,” he said.

He also said situations like this can be disconcerting for officers, “especially because a lot of people put their heart and souls into this and feel that the service we offer the students in particular is just so important,” he said. “But we’re hoping for the best, and we’re just kind of waiting to see how things fall out.”

University Police Chief Chris Autry stated in February that University Police supports Senate Bill 197, which requires private campus police organizations to follow the same public records rules adhered to by all other public police agencies. The bill passed on March 12 and became law on May 14.

A Salt Lake Tribune lawsuit concerning BYU’s denial of a records request from the Tribune in 2016 is now before the Utah Supreme Court. Since SB197 isn’t retroactive, the Tribune reported, it will not resolve the lawsuit. The Tribune has renewed its request for University Police records under the new bill.

The initial decertification announcement came in a Feb. 20 letter to President Kevin J Worthen, stating BYU failed to conduct an internal investigation into allegations of misconduct and failed to comply with a subpoena for internal records, both of which the letter states are grounds for decertification.

However, BYU’s Q&A states the university did conduct an investigation into allegations that former BYU police Lt. Aaron Rhoades shared nonpublic information with BYU’s Honor Code Office.

It also states BYU is legally restricted by the State of Utah from providing some records and information, and the Utah Attorney General’s office declined to prosecute Lt. Rhoades two years later after a “thorough” investigation. It continues that the university disciplined Lt. Rhoades for sharing nonpublic information, which is not a crime but which violated university policy.

The Q&A also states that sharing information with the Honor Code Office is not one of the grounds for decertification. It says former University Police Chief Larry Stott did attempt to investigate alleged criminal conduct despite allegations to the contrary, and BYU has properly responded to all subpoenas and produced thousands of pages of documents.

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