A bill requiring Brigham Young University’s police department to be subject to public records requests passed easily through the Utah House of Representatives on Tuesday, and now heads to the governor for a signature.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo and Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, requires law enforcement agencies of private higher education institutions to be subject to public record laws.
BYU’s police department, while having been certified as a law enforcement agency by the Department of Public Safety, was sued by the Salt Lake Tribune in 2016 after the department claimed it was not subject to open record laws because BYU is a private university. That case eventually made it all the way to the Utah Supreme Court, where it is pending.
Despite that lawsuit, BYU representatives spoke in a legislative committee meeting in late February in favor of passing the bill. BYU’s police chief, Chris Autry, was among those who testified in support of the bill at that committee meeting. It went on to pass the Senate on the consent calendar, and was voted through the Utah House of Representatives unanimously Tuesday.
The bill will now head to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s desk for a signature before it becomes law.
BYU’s police department is in danger of no longer being certified by the state as a police department, as DPS Commissioner Jess Anderson sent BYU a letter in February saying the force would be decertified as of Sept. 1 for failing to conduct an internal investigation into specific allegations of misconduct by an officer and failing to comply with a subpoena in June. Investigative records released by Utah’s Peace Officer Standards and Training show that a BYU police officer illegally accessed and distributed protected information from other police agencies.
The documents say that Lt. Aaron Rhoades accessed private police reports from the Orem Police Department, Utah County Sheriff’s Office and the Provo Police Department and gave information from those reports to the BYU Dean of Students Office, the Title IX Office and the Honor Code Office. No charges were brought against Rhoades, who denied wrongdoing.
BYU is appealing the decision to decertify the department.