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Utah Threatening To Strip Brigham Young University Police Force Of Its Authority


Utah is threatening to strip the police force at Brigham Young University of its authority to make arrests and investigate crimes. This is the result of a state investigation into police misconduct at the private school. It all began with sexual assault allegations made by BYU students back in 2016.

Reporter Daysha Eaton joins us now from member station KUER are in Salt Lake City. Hi, there, Daysha.


KELLY: Hi. So what is the context here? How unusual is it for a state to decertify a university police department like Utah says it's going to do?

EATON: Well, in Utah, it's unprecedented. I spoke with the department of public safety here and also the state attorney general's office, and they say this is a first for Utah. And really, around the rest of the country, it's just not something that happens much. So it's really unusual. It's - it's an unusual move by the state to step in and say the police force at a university just isn't up to the task of protecting people.

KELLY: And what is the timing here? I said they are threatening to strip the BYU police force of its authority. That's somewhere down the road?

EATON: Yeah, it wouldn't happen until September 2019, but they are making a move in that direction.

KELLY: OK. So take us back and just walk me through the case and what led to this decision.

EATON: Yeah, it started in 2016 after an allegation of a BYU student who claimed she was sexually assaulted off campus, not by another student. The woman said that her allegation was never adequately investigated, and that ultimately led the state to step in and examine what happened.

The state claims that BYU stonewalled its request for information. The local people - paper here, The Salt Lake Tribune, also tried to get information from BYU and said the university wouldn't release any details.

So the state stepped in to begin the process of removing the police force from BYU. And there's also some debate about whether the private university police force should be subject to the state's public record laws.

KELLY: What is Brigham Young saying about its police force and about its efforts to put all this right?

EATON: Very little. BYU administrators are being extremely tight-lipped about this. All they're saying is that they're going to appeal. They issued a statement from their website today. The university said - quoting here - "BYU finds this decision confounding and disagrees with the grounds for seeking decertification."

And we should remind people that BYU is different than other universities. It's private, and it's affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They have strict conduct policies which include not drinking coffee, no alcohol, no cuss words, women are prohibited from wearing revealing clothes and no premarital sex.

KELLY: Daysha Eaton, she's a reporter with member station KUER in Salt Lake City. Daysha, thanks very much.

EATON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRISTEZA'S "NEWBURY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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