(KUTV)- The Brigham Young University Police Department has long maintained they are not subject to open records laws that govern almost every police and state agency in Utah.
When reporters or members of the public make inquiries, they are, more often than not, told, “Brigham Young University and its University Police are not subject to GRAMA.” GRAMA stands for Government Records Access and Management Act, and state agencies are required to adhere to its edicts, but the BYU police department is part of Brigham Young University, a private institution.
Mike Hiestand, senior legal consultant with the Student Press law Center, says since BYU and other college police departments have statewide police powers, they should be subject to GRAMA.
“If a police department has the authority to carry guns, make arrests, it's a no-brainer — they ought to be covered by the same sort of rules of accountability that all police departments are subject to,” Hiestand said.
The BYU police department has been in the news frequently lately — first for its handling of sex assault allegations on campus, and, more recently, after allegations were lodged against a former president of the LDS Church's Missionary Training Center. Joseph Bishop is accused of raping a former sister missionary at the MTC in the mid 1980s.
KUTV requested a copy of a police report that had been completed concerning the allegations. BYU police sent us a report that was almost completely redacted. KUTV pushed back, and was later given a less redacted version of the report, which showed that Bishop had admitted to sexually inappropriate behavior with at least one former sister missionary.
A handful of states have decided to make it illegal for police departments on private college campuses to refuse requests made under the Freedom Of Information Act. Connecticut, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Virginia have all passed laws that subject these police departments to the same rules as other state agencies.
More recently, Indiana’s attorney general ruled that private college police departments must adhere to such rules, but lawmakers made sure at least one college — The University of Notre Dame — was exempt.
A number of lawmakers got together and, with Mike Pence — who was governor at the time — signed a law that excluded the Notre Dame campus police force from the new requirement, Hiestand said.
Unlike Notre Dame, the BYU police department is about to see changes in the way the state requires it to respond to requests made under the Freedom Of Information Act.
The Salt Lake Tribune has filed a suit against the police department, and a judge recently opined that she believed BYU should be subject to GRAMA requirements, stating in her opinion, “... the court concludes that BYUPD is a governmental entity for purposes of GRAMA because it is an agency of the state or a political subdivision established by the government to carry out the public’s business of policing.”
Both sides now have filed summary judgment motions to try to finalize the court’s ruling, which is expected to be made on May 14.