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August 11, 2022

Judge dismisses state of Utah's decertification efforts against BYU's police department

PROVO — Brigham Young University will be allowed to keep its police department after an administrative judge dismissed the Department of Public Safety’s motion to decertify the department.

The judge’s ruling, signed on Monday, comes nearly two years after the university received a letter from the Department of Public Safety on Feb. 20, 2019, claiming that BYU police had not met “certification criteria” required by Utah state law. The department wrote that due to its failure of “certification criteria” the state would decertify the police department.

The Department of Public Safety alleged that BYU had failed to comply with a subpoena issued by the investigative bureau of Utah’s Peace Officer Standards and Training; the subpoena was to obtain information on any internal investigation conducted into former BYU Police Lt. Aaron Rhoades.

An investigation by the POST bureau found that Rhoades had given private, protected, or controlled police reports from various police departments to the BYU Dean of Students Office, the Title IX Office and the Honor Code Office.

The decertification was to take effect Sept. 1, 2019, but BYU was allowed to continue to operate its police department as it appealed to an administrative judge.

Judge Richard Catten acknowledged the different agencies’ expectations of how the situation was to be handled.

“The Parties took a very different approach to the statutes and rules that are at play in this case. POST clearly expected BYUPD to act in a similar fashion to most other police agencies in the state — conduct an administrative internal affairs investigation (into) the officer’s alleged actions, then turn over the results to POST for further investigation under §53-6-211 UCA.4,” wrote Catten. “If BYUPD had followed that course, then the officer surrendering his certification would have been the end of the process and this decertification case would never have happened.”

He continued, “Instead, BYUPD chose a different course of action. It brought in multiple attorneys and obtained a secrecy order which, when combined with attorney-client privilege, resulted in much of the case being shielded from POST.”

Ultimately, Catten ruled in favor of the university, stating that BYUPD met the minimum requirements of Utah Code §53-6-211 which requires an “investigation” and responded to the investigative subpoena by state officials.

Department of Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson expressed his disappointment in the judge’s ruling in a press release issued Tuesday.

“Decertification was the right course of action to protect the integrity of law enforcement. Non-compliance with POST investigations erodes all integrity. Despite a ruling against my administrative action, it can still result in an important change for the BYU community,” Anderson said. “The department’s errors of the past have been disclosed and appropriate parties have an opportunity to correct them. I now look forward to working with BYUPD to establish appropriate policy and expectations.”

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