Brigham Young University has its own police force. So do a lot of large schools. That’s not surprising. What’s unusual is that, because it’s a religious school, the police aren’t necessarily accountable to the public. More importantly, they’re not transparent. It’s not like a reporter could issue a public records request after some altercation.
That all changed on Friday when a judge ruled that the BYU Police Department is a government entity and therefore subject to open records request. BYU officials haven’t said if they’ll appeal the ruling.
Robert Kirby of the Salt Lake Tribune (which filed the lawsuit against BYU) used to be a cop, and he tells a really interesting story of when his world clashed with the BYU police.
He arrested some BYU students a while back for fooling around in a cemetery.
Personally, I didn’t care what idiot game they were playing in a graveyard at night or even if sex had been planned atop somebody’s grave. But that’s just me.
However, as a cop, I was paid to enforce the law, which included trespassing into a graveyard after hours. That, and an attempt to argue public property statutes with me based on half a semester of pre-law, earned them a trip to jail.
It shouldn’t have been a huge deal. Maybe a fine or community service. But Kirby later learned that the BYU Police got involved and the students were expelled. Kirby can’t blame himself for that, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t bother him.
What bothered me at the time was that a misdemeanor arrest by a municipal cop ended up being processed by a church-owned police force and a very private judgment committee.
Call me irascible, but the worst form of church-and-state violation is when a religion has its own state-authorized police department to enforce secular law — and a little extra.
If any church has a police department, then it should be run like regular police forces — with open records, public appeals and not checking to see whether someone went to worship service.
This ruling by a judge is a step closer to that kind of oversight, even if BYU can still create its own rules and punishments.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)