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State Of Utah Intends To Revoke BYU's Police Certification

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BYU's handling of sexual assualt cases sparked criticism in 2016.

The Utah Department of Public Safety plans to revoke the certification of Brigham Young University's police force after an allegation of a botched sexual assault investigation.

In 2016 a BYU student claimed she was sexually assaulted off-campus, but not by another student. BYU police took on the case, but the student said the investigation was mishandled. The state then stepped in to review the case.

During that probe the officer being investigated resigned, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety.

An emailed statement from the department’s spokesperson said the decision to pursue decertification is the culmination of a three-year review and the ultimate decision of Commissioner Jess Anderson.

“It is important to our [d]epartment that all law enforcement agencies and officers in Utah are held to the highest standard," spokeswoman Marissa Cote said. "We will give proper respect to the decertification process while maintaining the public safety of the communities involved.”

If BYU’s police force is decertified, it would be the first time in state history that the Department of Public Safety has taken away certification from a law enforcement agency in the state.

The state Department of Public Safety said BYU stonewalled its requests for information.

There's also debate on whether the private university police force should be subject to the state’s public records laws. State lawmakers are looking at legislation that would require Brigham Young University’s police department to be treated as a public law enforcement agency.

State Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, told lawmakers Tuesday that his bill targets the private university police force, which is being decertified by the Utah Department of Public Safety.

“All it says is, that if an institution is going to have a police department, and they’re going to be delegated police powers,” Curtis told Senate Judiciary Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, “then they’re going to have to be subject to transparency, like any other police department.”

Heather Gunnarsson, legal counsel for BYU, expressed support for the bill.

"We agree that university police should be subject to the same level of transparency and accountability as any other law enforcement office within the state. This bill does just that and we are here to support it.”

The legislation would not apply retroactively to the Salt Lake Tribune’s information requests.

The committee passed the bill, which next goes to the Senate.

The Salt Lake Tribune said when its reporters tried to get information from BYU, the university wouldn’t release any details. The paper is suing.

BYU is affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It has a strict code of conduct, which forbids the consumption of coffee and alcohol, the use of foul language, revealing clothing and premarital sex.

The school also has an honor code office which oversees its rules. The state alleges that a BYU officer had shared information improperly with the university from a state database about its sexual assault investigation.

Many sexual assault survivors at BYU have complained they were punished after reporting crimes. As a result the university separated the Honor Code and Title IX offices.

BYU’s board is made up of top LDS Church leadership. More than 30,000 students attend the university.

University officials say they will appeal the decertification, which would become effective when certification for the university and its police officers runs out Sept. 1, 2019.

In a statement released on its website, the university said it was surprised by the state’s action.

“BYU finds this decision confounding and disagrees with the grounds for seeking decertification,” the statement said.

With BYU’s appeal of the decertification, the issue will move to an appeals committee and a public hearing will be held. If BYU’s appeal is denied, the case could go to Utah District Court.

A separate court case being brought by the Salt Lake Tribune against BYU is before the state Supreme Court, and is expected to be taken up soon.

Daysha Eaton reports about religion and cultural issues, including social justice, for KUER.
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