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BYU responds to DPS notice of intent to decertify University Police

Today BYU responded to the Department of Public Safety’s notice of intent to decertify University Police. The response explains how BYU met all obligations to investigate allegations of officer misconduct and fully cooperated with all DPS investigations. (See the full response here.) The following answers address questions about University Police’s structure and operations and the pending decertification action:

1. What is University Police, and what does it do?

University Police is a state-certified law enforcement agency that is privately funded, managed and operated by BYU. Established in 1952 and certified as a law enforcement agency for nearly 40 years, University Police is currently made up of BYU employees, including 30 full-time and 10 part-time certified law enforcement officers. Every day, University Police protects tens of thousands of students, employees and visitors on BYU’s campus by enforcing public law.

2. What happened when a University Police officer was investigated for alleged improper sharing of information with the Honor Code Office and other campus units?

In May 2016, at BYU’s request, the Utah Department of Public Safety (DPS), through the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), conducted an investigation into allegations that Lt. Aaron Rhoades shared nonpublic information with BYU’s Honor Code Office and other campus units. BYU is legally restricted from providing some records and information related to the SBI investigation because of Secrecy Orders entered at the request of the State of Utah, which remain in place. Two years later, after a thorough investigation by SBI, the Utah Attorney General’s office declined to prosecute Lt. Rhoades. Ultimately, in agreement with the Attorney General’s office, BYU disciplined Lt. Rhoades for sharing nonpublic information, which, although not a crime, violated university policy. During an investigation of the same conduct by the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) division of DPS, Lt. Rhoades retired from BYU and voluntarily relinquished his POST certification.

3. What led to DPS seeking to decertify University Police?

In January 2019, Utah Commissioner of Public Safety Jess Anderson presented a demand letter to University Police Chief Chris Autry that University Police permit DPS access to all records and personnel and to allow DPS to conduct another investigation of University Police. In response, Chief Autry committed to provide access to all University Police records and personnel deemed necessary by DPS personnel to conduct an investigation. Rather than accept BYU’s cooperation, on February 20, 2019, Commissioner Anderson issued a notice of intent to decertify University Police claiming that (1) former Chief Stott failed to conduct an investigation into the misconduct of Lt. Rhoades and (2) BYU failed to respond to a POST subpoena. Both alleged grounds for decertification are incorrect.

4. Is it true that sharing information with the Honor Code Office is NOT one of the grounds for decertification?

Yes. Sharing information with the Honor Code Office by Lt. Rhoades is NOT one of the grounds for decertification. After a two-year investigation, the Attorney General’s office decided not to prosecute Lt. Rhoades. He subsequently retired from BYU and relinquished his POST certification. That issue has been resolved. It is not even mentioned in the decertification letter.

The grounds for decertification are based on two allegations. The first is that former Chief Stott did not investigate the alleged criminal misconduct, even though:

  • He requested that DPS investigate those issues.
  • After his request, DPS conducted two separate investigations.
  • He was prohibited from conducting his own investigation by a state-requested secrecy order.
  • Upon court authorization BYU conducted an internal investigation.

The second allegation is that BYU failed to respond to a subpoena, even though:

  • BYU has properly responded to all subpoenas.
  • BYU has produced thousands of pages of documents.
  • BYU has offered testimony from numerous witnesses.

5. What is BYU’s response to the effort to decertify University Police?

University Police met its obligation by asking DPS to conduct an investigation and by fully cooperating with all DPS investigations and responding to all DPS inquiries and requests for records. BYU’s formal response to the Commissioner’s notice lays out the history of the DPS investigations, BYU’s cooperation with DPS and the reasons why decertification of University Police is improper. In summary, former University Police Chief Larry Stott requested an initial investigation into the actions of Lt. Rhoades, which resulted in a lengthy investigation by DPS (through SBI), in which BYU fully cooperated. DPS (through POST) then conducted a second investigation, in which BYU cooperated to the fullest extent allowed by law and court orders. BYU also conducted its own internal, privileged investigation and disciplined Lt. Rhoades. Throughout this process, BYU has properly responded to all subpoenas, producing thousands of pages of documents and offering testimony from numerous witnesses. The grounds asserted for decertifying University Police are completely without merit.

6. Has University Police been decertified?

No. University Police has not been decertified but has been threatened with decertification through the DPS Commissioner’s notice of intent to decertify University Police. BYU will respond to the allegations, conduct discovery and present its case at a hearing. If, after the hearing, DPS decides to decertify University Police, BYU will have the opportunity to appeal that decision to a court. During these legal proceedings, University Police will continue to protect BYU’s campus by operating as a certified law enforcement agency and will continue to meet the certification criteria.

7. Does University Police enforce BYU’s Honor Code?

No. University Police officers are law enforcement officers who enforce only public laws.

8. Does University Police share information with the Honor Code Office or other campus units?

University Police shares information with campus units in situations involving public safety or public law enforcement. To comply with federal education laws like Title IX, the Clery Act and the Drug Free Schools Act, University Police is legally required to share certain information with other campus units. University Police responds to formal requests by anyone for law enforcement records that may legally be made available to the public.

9. Do police agencies at other universities in Utah share information with other campus units?

Absolutely. Like BYU’s University Police, campus police at Utah’s public universities are tasked with enforcing public laws on campus. They routinely share public law enforcement information with other units on their campus, including university officials and campus offices that handle student conduct issues.

10. What has BYU done to make sure information is not used or shared inappropriately?

BYU and University Police have made structural and procedural changes to ensure that University Police officers access, use or share law enforcement records and personal information only in an appropriate manner and in accordance with all laws and university policies. Commenting on these remedial measures last fall, Ric Cantrell, the chief of staff for the Attorney General’s office, said that “changes were made within [University Police] in connection with the records-sharing issue,” and that “[w]e are satisfied that the structure that allowed this to happen has been remedied.”

11. Does University Police respond to public records requests?

As a matter of longstanding policy, and similar to the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA), University Police has regularly provided public law enforcement records in response to records requests, but BYU does not provide private, internal records, except as authorized by law and university policy. Since 2017, BYU has worked with legislators and government lawyers to create legislation that will make University Police officially subject to GRAMA and will provide governmental immunity to University Police officers as they work in the line of duty. BYU worked specifically with the Attorney General’s Office and Senator Curt Bramble to create SB 197. BYU fully supports SB 197 and looks forward to complying with GRAMA when that bill becomes effective on May 14, 2019.

12. Has University Police refused to provide certain records to media outlets and others?

University Police has provided and will continue to provide public law enforcement records in response to lawful records requests from media outlets and others. However, University Police does not provide records when disclosure would be prohibited under applicable laws, such as GRAMA or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). BYU also does not release nonpublic records that are subject to legal privileges or that relate only to the private, internal operations or administration of the university. Current litigation involves attempts by third parties to obtain private, internal records of BYU, and not public records. BYU has already provided the plaintiffs in those cases numerous public records.

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