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Jaren Wilkey, BYU, File

BYU says state is ‘incorrect’ on criteria for decertifying university’s police department

By Jacob Klopfenstein, | Posted - Mar 22nd, 2019 @ 3:01pm

PROVO — Brigham Young University says the state of Utah's grounds for decertifying its on-campus police department over the release of records are incorrect.

The university published a lengthy news release Friday morning in response to the Utah Department of Public Safety decision to decertify BYU’s police department. BYU is appealing the decertification.

DPS announced the decision in February, saying the university failed to properly investigate allegations of misconduct involving a BYU police officer several years ago. DPS also said BYU didn’t comply with a Peace Officer Standards and Training, or POST, investigation involving the officer.

But the university insists that BYU Police Chief Chris Autry “committed to provide access to all University Police records and personnel deemed necessary by DPS personnel to conduct an investigation,” according to the Friday news release.

It also says BYU asked DPS to investigate the allegations against the officer in May 2016.

Rather than working with the BYU Police Department for the investigation, DPS Commissioner Jess Anderson sent a letter of intent to decertify the department on Feb. 20, according to the BYU release.

The decertification is effective on Sept. 1, 2019, according to the DPS letter. The extended time period is allowed so that the university will have time to find another agency to provide law enforcement services on campus, the letter says.

The decertification saga stems from an investigation involving former BYU Police Lt. Aaron Rhoades.

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A POST investigation, released last month, alleged that Rhoades accessed private or protected information from the Orem City Police Department, the Utah County Sheriff's Office and the Provo City Police Department between August 2014 and June 2016.

The investigation further alleges that Rhoades then shared information from the police reports he accessed with the BYU Honor Code, Title IX and Dean of Students offices.

The POST investigation said Rhoades' alleged misconduct amounted to a class B misdemeanor; however, BYU insists it was not a crime, but it did violate university policy, the news release states.

BYU disciplined Rhoades, who subsequently retired from BYU and voluntarily gave up his POST certification, according to the Friday news release. The Utah County attorney did not file charges against him.

Rhoades’ alleged improper sharing of information isn’t part of the state’s grounds for decertifying the BYU police department, according to the news release. Rather, the letter refers to the ways BYU handled the Rhoades investigation.

BYU officials, including Autry, last month spoke in favor of SB197, a bill that changes the definition of a Utah “law enforcement agency” to include university police departments, making them beholden to the same open records rules as other law enforcement agencies in the state.

"We have no issue with being held to the same government requirements as other law enforcement agencies," Autry said in a February committee hearing regarding the bill.

SB197 passed the Utah Legislature and currently awaits Gov. Gary Herbert’s signature.

The dispute over whether private university police departments should be held to public records laws prompted a lawsuit between BYU police and the Salt Lake Tribune. The newspaper sued the university after it refused to release emails regarding rape accusations made by a student in 2016.

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