Kirby: BYU’s police — Mormon rites vs. Miranda rights

Robert Kirby

Sometime during my years as a cop, I arrested four BYU students — two guys, two girls — for scampering around a city graveyard in the middle of the night.

When I caught them, they weren’t entirely dressed. They weren’t naked, but I did find a sock and a pair of women’s underpants on a headstone.

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.

I thought that was it. But a few months later, the court issued a failure-to-appear warrant for one of the kids. It landed in my lap.

Curious, I checked into it. The judge had released the students on their own recognizance. That was OK with me. But I dug a little more and discovered that all four had been kicked out of BYU within a couple of days of their arrests.

I was never certain whether they were expelled because of trespassing, being out so late, because of a stray pair of underpants or something else. Nobody would tell me.

I felt bad. After all, the kids hadn’t done anything all that horrible. I could have just ended the debate by giving the pre-law mouth a boot in the butt and sent the students on their way.

Instead, they went to jail, got bounced from school, endured prolonged parental disapproval and shame at church, and, doubtless, ended up riddled with needle marks and living on the street.

I’m kidding about the last part. Maybe being tossed from BYU actually put them on the right path. Most of those things happened to me, and I didn’t turn out entirely hopeless.

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.

Don’t get me wrong. I worked with a lot of BYU cops. Good ones. But it was whom they ultimately answered to that gave me pause.

I answered, in order, to a sergeant, a lieutenant, a chief, a mayor and, ultimately, the public. I don’t know how it worked at BYU, but I’ll bet it wasn’t the same line of authority after chief. Somewhere at the top of that lofty chain of command was Jesus.

The last thing a church needs is a police department. Security guards? OK. But cops?

If I discovered two BYU faculty members (married but not to each other) making the windows of a car steam (and I did once), I didn’t have to report the adultery through official channels.

My responsibility began and ended with making sure both occupants wanted to be there and maybe suggesting they take it somewhere else.

I never knew BYU cops who looked at themselves as the morality police, but I’m not sure if they were ever ordered to be. I hope it never happens.

Who wants to be sitting in church and suddenly get snatched out of the congregation for unpaid parking tickets? Would not paying a full tithe be a misdemeanor or a felony?

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.