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SALT LAKE CITY — At the request of BYU police and Utah County law enforcement agencies, the Utah Department of Public Safety announced Wednesday it will review how the university police agency accesses and disseminates information connected to sexual assault investigations.
Brigham Young University has come under public scrutiny after some students claimed that their efforts to report sexual assaults has led to disciplinary investigations under the school's Honor Code. The allegations have included reports that the private university's treatment of sexual assault victims has created a climate that makes students wary of reporting crimes for fear that they themselves will be penalized.
Also included in the controversy are claims that information from police reports had been passed between police and BYU's Honor Code office, leading the university to investigate student victims.
"At the request of BYU Police Chief Larry Stott and other law enforcement administrators in Utah County, the Utah Department of Public Safety's State Bureau of Investigation will review information access and dissemination issues including any possible violations related to the sexual assault reporting situation at BYU made public this spring. SBI is currently working with BYU Police Department, and other law enforcement agencies involved, to determine the scope and focus of the investigation," the Department of Public Safety release said.
At the conclusion of its review, the department will determine whether any issues should be referred to the Utah County Attorney's Office.
Provo Police Sgt. Brian Taylor said the department joined in requesting the review when it realized and became concerned that its own investigative reports may have been used in Honor Code reviews.
"We rely on victims to make timely reports to us, and when we learned that Provo police reports may have been accessed, we felt that the best way to preserve the trust we need with victims was to ask an outside agency to conduct that review," Taylor said.
The department limited its comments Wednesday while it awaits the results of the review, Taylor said.
"We are confident that they're going to do something reasonable with that investigation and make a reasonable recommendation, and we look forward to hearing it," he said.
In April, deputy Utah County attorney Craig Johnson described how a woman who had reported a sexual assault was being investigated by the Honor Code office and barred from registering for classes until a review determined whether she had violated university rules through the circumstances surrounding the attack.
Johnson said the woman became the subject of an Honor Code review after Utah County sheriff's deputy Edwin Randolph turned a police report over to the standards office. The report potentially incriminated the woman in alleged violations of the Honor Code, according to Johnson.
Randolph was charged in February with retaliation against a victim, a third-degree felony, for allegedly turning the document over to BYU. Those charges were later dropped.
Students attending BYU agree to adhere to Honor Code standards, including abstaining from premarital sex, not consuming drugs or alcohol and following dress and grooming regulations.
BYU Police Lt. Steven Messick asserted Wednesday that in the nearly 30 years he has been with the department, there has been no practice of handing off investigative reports to the Honor Code office.
"The bottom line is that we don't share information with other entities. What we're really making sure is that we're keeping victims safe and we're not re-victimizing. We want to make sure we're taking care of them," Messick said. "It's important for people to have confidence in us that if they come in, they know that as a victims, we're not going to release their name or information without their approval."
The department ultimately answers to Utah's commissioner of public safety, Messick noted.
Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy said his office also backed the request, which was made by Stott. In the wake of allegations surrounding BYU's responses to sexual assault reports, Tracy believes the review will help answer questions or concerns from the public.
"We wanted somebody outside the county, who is completely independent, to come down here and go through all of these issues to be able to basically finalize a report and make some findings," the sheriff said. "(Stott) welcomed it, he wanted it, and it was at his suggestion that this go forward, which is the way it should be."
Tracy emphasized that the sheriff's office does not share private details of investigations with any non-law enforcement agencies, and that the records management system shared between departments is meant solely for police purposes.
The review will show the public whether there are any issues with investigative information being inappropriately shared, he said, and if those issues exist, which agencies are responsible for them.
BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said the review was requested as part of the university's overall efforts to review and improve the school's sexual assault reporting process.
Julie Valentine, a member of the advisory council, said she will welcome feedback from the public safety department once the review is complete.
"This could be really helpful information. The more information we get, the better off we'll be in this whole process," Valentine said.
She went on to applaud BYU police for joining the request for review, calling the agency "an excellent campus police department."
BYU is a private university owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church declined comment Wednesday on the Utah Department of Public Safety Review.
Church leaders affirmed last month its committment to the safety of students and said that the church in no way condones sexual assault.
"There is no tolerance for sexual assault at BYU or in the church. Assault of any kind is a serious criminal offense and we support its reporting, investigation and prosecution to the full extent of the law. Victims of assault or recipients of unwelcome sexual attention should be treated with sensitivity, compassion and respect, and should feel that those to whom they disclose the assault are committed to helping them deal with the trauma they have experienced," church leaders said.
Contributing: Tad Walch