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BYU forms new ‘security department’ as its police department’s future remains unclear

University says new department will not be subject to state records laws

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BYU police vehicles are parked outside the department’s offices on the BYU campus in Provo on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

PROVO — Brigham Young University on Thursday announced it is forming a new BYU Security Department.

The new department “will function separately from and alongside the BYU Police Department,” and will oversee on-campus security for buildings such as the library and museum of art, as well as campus parking, according to a statement from BYU.

The security department will not have the authority to arrest people, according to the school.

And because security employees will not be certified law enforcers, BYU spokeswomen Carri Jenkins said the department is not required to abide by open records laws.

“The security department does not have law enforcement authority and is therefore not subject to GRAMA,” she said.

According to the university’s statement, “BYU police and its officers will patrol campus and continue to be subject to GRAMA (Government Records Access and Management) and other state and federal laws applicable to law enforcement agencies.”

But the fact that the new department will not be subject to Utah public records laws has both the Utah Society of Professional Journalists and the Utah Media Coalition concerned. 

Eric Peterson, president of the Utah Headliners chapter of the society, said on the surface, the creation of the department appears to be an effort to get around open records laws that the police department was ordered to obey.

“That’s exactly what it looks like to me,” he said. “It strikes me as suspicious that in BYU’s 145-year history they suddenly decided to create a security department. I mean, it does not look good. I would love to hear different.”

Jenkins said having both police and security on campus is nothing new.

“BYU has long had both police and security personnel and this new structure allows both to operate independently,” she said.

Jenkins added that security employees “will have specialized safety training.”

“BYU security employees will function similarly to employees in private security companies or nonsworn security personnel at universities like Notre Dame University wherein they will have specialized safety training, but they will not have authority to make arrests like a sworn law enforcement officer,” the school’s statement says.

Thursday’s announcement comes as BYU and the Utah Department of Public Safety continue to fight over the certification of the university’s police department.

The state announced in February 2019 that the police department would be decertified for failing to comply with the state’s open records laws. The school appealed that decision in March 2019, but as of Thursday, the issue remains unresolved. The department remains certified while the appeals process is ongoing.

The Utah Department of Public Safety released a brief statement Thursday regarding BYU’s announcement:

“We recognize the efforts of what they’re trying to do. We’re not in a position to comment, pending administrative action the commissioner has taken to decertify the agency.”

The next hearing on the BYU police decertification process is scheduled for later this month. At that time, a judge could rule on a motion for summary judgment.

The new security department will consist of 10 full-time employees and 300 student employees, according to BYU. Jenkins said those students will conduct security duties as they already do.

“BYU has long had both police and security personnel and this new structure ensures that BYU does not use law enforcement authority in its security operations. The structure has been in place for years. The officers designated to oversee the security of campus buildings and properties will continue to do the same jobs they have done in the past — demonstrating that no law enforcement authority was required to perform that work,” she said.

Chris Autry has been named the new managing director of both the school’s police department and its security department.

The statement refers to Autry as the former BYU police chief, saying he will oversee both BYU police and BYU security in his new role, but a new police chief will be hired.

Peterson said the new department being overseen by BYU’s former police chief also raises red flags.

Autry became chief of the BYU Police Department in January 2019. He has been with the department for more than 20 years.

“Once in place, the BYU police chief and the BYU security management team will report to Autry, who will in turn report to BYU’s Administration Vice President and CFO Steve Hafen,” according to the statement.

“The new police and security structure will fully separate law enforcement functions from internal security functions to effectively protect our campus community and allow BYU police to focus solely on law enforcement activities,” Hafen said.