This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
At 2:18 a.m. on March 1, 2015, an officer with Brigham Young University's campus police department logged into a countywide record-keeping system and ran a search.
By the end of that day, a Sunday, BYU officers had reviewed 36 reports at least from across Utah County, according to data provided by the county sheriff's office. That wasn't unusual.
BYU police searched for and accessed about 6,500 initial reports, plus an undisclosed number of supplemental reports, from 21 other Utah County police forces in the 18½ months that ended Sept. 15 of this year, according to the sheriff's data.
While there's no published research on how often a police force typically reviews a neighboring agency's records, the BYU department's frequency appears high, according to a Provo police sergeant.
BYU police searched the database at a relatively consistent rate until June of this year when a decline began, shortly after the Utah Department of Public Safety began investigating the department's use of other agencies' records.
The data raises further questions about how officers on the campus, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, access and share their own reports and the records of other agencies, and whether they are working as enforcers of the school's Honor Code.
The DPS probe began in late May, after controversy arose over how the school responds to sex assaults against its students. In at least one rape case, a BYU officer accessed a Provo police report and shared its contents with BYU's Honor Code Office, according to documents obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune and verified by Provo police.
Marissa Villasenor, a DPS spokeswoman, said in an email Monday that the agency's investigation is continuing and there is no estimated completion date.
BYU Police Lt. Chris Autry, in an email to The Tribune, said looking up police records to aid Honor Code staff "is not normal practice," and that BYU officers access the countywide database for investigative purposes.
For example, he wrote, if an officer receives a stolen bicycle report, the officer may check to see if the bike was found somewhere else in the county or to see if similar thefts have taken place elsewhere.
"We are using this information to prevent and solve crime," he wrote. "With the stolen bike, by looking at other reports, we can find out how criminals are stealing bikes. This allows us to educate our students on how to best secure our property."
BYU's Honor Code includes a dress code, bans on alcohol and premarital sex, and other rules. In late November, an Honor Code investigator contacted BYU police Lt. Aaron Rhoades, asking him to seek information on a rape case reported by student Madi Barney, who has called for changes in how BYU handles sexual-assault reports.
Logs from the records system show Rhoades accessed Barney's case that day, Provo police reports state. According to an Honor Code Office report, Rhoades described viewing a "long police report with 3-4 supplements," and he relayed intimate details from the file to the investigator.
A Utah County sheriff's deputy later brought the case file to the Honor Code Office. Barney subsequently was forbidden from enrolling in future classes unless she submitted to an Honor Code investigation, which a prosecutor unsuccessfully asked the school to delay until the criminal rape case is resolved.
Barney on Monday said BYU police gained access to her medical records through notes made by a sexual assault nurse and she feels violated by that.
"I don't even know how many people looked at it," she said. "It's intensely personal. It's things I didn't even tell my closest friends or family, and people I don't even know looked at it with malicious intent."
BYU's actual access unclear • BYU is among 22 police forces in Utah County that share access to each other's reports through commercial software made by Spillman Technologies. Like other workplaces share documents or information through Microsoft Outlook or Google Docs, police forces can input case information including time, place, suspects' and victims' names into the Spillman software, and that report then becomes accessible to officers at that police force and other departments in the user group.
The Utah County Sheriff's Office has administrator access to the database and provided data to The Tribune after the newspaper filed a records request. The data did not include which officer accessed the reports or what crimes the report discussed.
The sheriff's office also did not provide data on how many times BYU police accessed what are called "supplemental reports." These are typically follow-up reports, such as interviews with witnesses that occur days after the initial episode.
For Barney's case, for example, the data would show only the officer's access of the initial report, not the three or four supplemental reports.
The sheriff's office said it could not estimate what percentage of BYU officers' actual access of the database is reflected by the number of initial reports accessed, which was 6,485.
The Tribune has records requests and appeals pending in pursuit of more comprehensive data.
Still, the available data surprised Provo Sgt. Brian Taylor, whose police department is part of the record-sharing system.
"The department realized that a large number of Spillman access requests had been made by the university into Provo police reports," Taylor said. "Police reports are not, strictly speaking, confidential, but ... downloading huge banks of them at a time isn't how it's done. That's what we're concerned about."
Taylor added: "I've only occasionally in my career had any need to access another agency's reports. But I am one cop, not an entire agency."
Access by BYU police declined in June and then plunged to its lowest total of the 18-month period in July. There was a slight rebound in August, but it was still far below the same time the prior year.
'We will not stand' for abuses • Policies governing how Utah County agencies can share and access records stress that the information in the database is sensitive and is intended to be viewed only by those whose job is directly connected to law enforcement.
A police agency can only share its own records with its mayor, city manager or government heads but data from other agencies can not be released without approval, according to a redacted version of the shared system policy released to The Tribune.
While the policy prohibits users from sharing information from another agency's case or investigation "including verbalizations of content, digital copying or printing material" it does not state what consequences an agency or user could face for breaking the rules.
Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy said an officer can be sanctioned by having access to the system taken away. If it's a departmentwide issue, the sheriff said, those who participate in the agreement could vote to sanction the entire department by blocking it from accessing outside investigations.
That's never happened before, Tracy said.
"If there are abuses, we will not stand for them," he said. "If there are abuses, we will find a way to remedy it."
To access the database, an officer needs a login and password, according to Taylor. A detailed log is made every time an officer accesses a report.
According to Utah's Government Records Access and Management Act, any public employee who has lawful access to protected records and who improperly shares that information could be charged with a class B misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Also, the Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, which regulates police, over the years has suspended officers found to have queried law enforcement databases for personal reasons or reasons that have nothing to do with public safety.
Police departments across the country consider their reports sensitive, said Mark Iris, a lecturer in the Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences program at Northwestern University and the retired executive director of the City of Chicago Police Board, on Monday. He said he's never heard of a scenario similar to a BYU officer accessing a joint database for a school's Honor Code Office.
Allowing officers to violate policies, Iris said, sends a bad message.
"If you tell the officer it's OK to break the rules in Situation A then the message the officer is going to receive is, 'It's OK to break the rules period,' " Iris said.
BYU has said it is taking significant steps, including forming an advisory council, to explore its handling of sexual-assault cases and make recommendations for change. It has said a student "will never be referred to the Honor Code Office for being a victim of sexual assault." The advisory council is expected to release its findings sometime this fall.
The Tribune generally does not name rape victims, but Barney has agreed to be identified.
Tribune reporter Erin Alberty contributed to this report.
Twitter: @natecarlisle, @jm_miller