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Sheriff questions BYU police record searches amid state audit

Sheriff questions BYU police record searches amid state audit

(John Wilson, KSL TV, File)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

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PROVO — BYU's University Police significantly curtailed the number of times its officers accessed a county database of police reports after the launch of a state audit of the practice, according to published reports.

BYU's campus police department cut its use of the system in half after the Utah Department of Public Safety began looking into the school's use of the Spillman Technologies system, which lets more than 20 Utah County police, fire and EMS agencies share records, according to data obtained and published by the Daily Herald.

The federal Office for Civil Rights is investigating BYU's response to former student Madi Barney's report of sexual assault.

"That series of events prompted some soul-searching questions about where our reports are going," Provo Police Sgt. Brian Taylor said.

One concern is whether University Police access the Spillman system and share the information with the university's Honor Code Office.

That's not the normal practice for campus police, a spokesman said, but the Utah County sheriff and others are questioning the propriety of BYU's use of the system. They say they asked DPS to launch an investigation after they saw the volume of BYU's use of the database.

The University Police spokesman said BYU requested an audit by DPS of its use of the database and will make necessary adjustments if warranted.

"The university looks forward to the audit's findings as an opportunity to verify that the department regularly uses the Spillman system for appropriate purposes," University Police Lt. Steven Messick said in a statement. "However, if there are improvements the department can make, it looks forward to making them.

"It is not the normal practice of the department to access nonpublic information on the Spillman system and then use it in Honor Code investigations. However, in an effort to identify any errors, the university's police chief proactively asked for the audit."

A Department of Public Safety official said the audit is being conducted by the State Bureau of Investigation and there is no timetable for its completion.

Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy expressed alarm over the number of records — 2,300 according to the Daily Herald and 6,500 according to the Salt Lake Tribune — accessed by University Police over the past year and a half. He said the issue is a matter of maintaining public trust.

"Our biggest issue has been to figure out who accessed what for what reason," Tracy said. "We can't afford to lose the trust and support of the people."

If the state investigation confirms the records were accessed improperly, it could lead to sanctions or criminal charges, he said. Even if no laws were broken, Tracy said he supports regular audits to document how the system is used.

BYU began using Spillman Technologies products in 1987. The Utah County Sheriff's Office has been a Spillman client since 2004, said Sarah Huizingh, the company's marketing director.

Spillman specializes in creating multijurisdictional systems that allow agencies to share records. The sheriff's office is the host agency for the records database shared by about two dozen Utah County agencies, Huizingh said, including Provo, Orem, Lehi and Utah Valley University police.

"The Spillman system was set up so law enforcement agencies can share information, prevent and solve crime, and document all calls for service," Messick said. "It is a countywide system accessible by all agencies in Utah County. This sharing of records enhances the quality of law enforcement and is standard practice by Utah County agencies."

Tracy told the Daily Herald that county detectives access Spillman 200 times a month while deputies do so about 20 times a month. BYU averaged about 150 queries a month from March 2015 to May 2016. That's when DPS began its audit or investigation.

Since then, BYU's queries in the system fell below 75 per month.

"(University Police Chief Larry Stott) personally asked Public Safety Commissioner (Keith) Squires to perform an audit on our department’s use of records," Messick said. "What is unclear is if we access these records more or less than other agencies. This is where an audit will be helpful and why we asked for it."

Provo police purchased Spillman's records management system in 2012 and joined the shared software system that allows agencies to exchange law records, images and other data with the other Utah County agencies.

In August, Spillman Technologies announced in a news release that Provo had expanded its use of Spillman products.

More than 1,700 public safety agencies and private security companies use Spillman's database systems.

Contributing: Associated Press

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