Provo Police await commissioner’s decision to decertify BYU Police

Jessica Smith
Provo Police apprehend a suspect at 1:40 p.m. on Monday, Mar. 11. (Jessica Smith)

An earlier version of this story created confusion about some of the details contained in this updated version. The story has since been corrected.

The announcement of possible decertification has left a great deal of uncertainty regarding the future of BYU Police, and the Provo Police Department could fill a new role if the decertification goes through.

The Utah Department of Public Safety has yet to act on their intent to decertify the BYU Police Department, outlined in a letter to BYU President Kevin J Worthen earlier this year. The move occurred after BYU failed to release records about communication between one of its officers and the BYU Honor Code office regarding information that many considered to be private. A proposed hearing date on the issue came and went earlier this fall and no announcement has been made about when, or if, the decertification process will move forward.

In a different, but related case, the Utah Supreme Court decided on Dec. 4 not to rule on a lawsuit brought against BYU by The Salt Lake Tribune, sending it back to a lower court instead. In that case, BYU Police have refused to release records that the newspaper believes should be made public that involve a former BYU Police officer. The Tribune has opined that the records must be made public because BYU Police have traditionally operated as if they are a public police force. Many records from those agencies are considered public records unless they are specifically made exempt by a state open records committee or a judge.

Third District Judge Laura Scott will decide if the records requested from the Tribune will be considered public records under Government Records Access and Management Access, more commonly know as GRAMA.

The decertification action came about after the police department refused to release the records. The university responded to the possible decertification of BYU Police earlier this year with an intent to appeal after Department of Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson sent a letter to President Worthen announcing the department’s intent to decertify BYU Police as of Sept. 1.

The department has yet to announce when the final decision regarding the university’s police force will be made.

Attempts were made to contact BYU Police, but no officials were able to give a statement.

Sgt. Nisha King, Provo Police Department public information officer, said the Provo Police Department will increase its efforts if the decertification does come into effect in the future.

“If crime went up in Provo, we will take care of it,” King said.

Given the desertification’s pending status, King said she prefers to guess what will happen if the decertification goes through.

“At this point, we are supportive of BYU Police,” King said. “If we have an appeal date, then we will have something to comment.”

King said the Provo Police Department is grateful for the help BYU Police have provided in the past.

Provo Police Chief Richard Ferguson said he and his department have enjoyed working with BYU Police for the past several years, but are not involved in the decertification process.

“We are aware of the appeal process going on, but we are not a part of it,” Ferguson said.

Whatever the final verdict on the case may be, Ferguson and his officers assure Provo residents that the Provo Police Department will be doing their best to keep Provo safe.

“Our priority is always the safety of our citizens,” Ferguson said.

Todd Hollingshead, a spokesperson for University Communications, said there are no updates regarding the state of the appeal to the Department of Public Safety.

“University Police continues to be a fully certified law enforcement agency,” Hollingshead said.

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