SUU officials mulling future of campus police department

SUU Police Department building, Cedar City, Utah, July 11, 2020 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — Southern Utah University officials are considering whether to continue operating the university’s in-house police department or instead contract with the Cedar City Police Department for its law enforcement needs.

SUU President Scott Wyatt addressed the issue during an hourlong public forum meeting that was streamed online Tuesday evening.

“You’ve probably heard something about our discussions with Cedar City about the possibility of merging or collaborating with our two police departments,” Wyatt said during the meeting. “There’s no decisions made. We are waiting for some kind of proposal to come from Cedar City Police Department.”

Wyatt stressed that the university’s request for proposal is merely a preliminary inquiry and no decisions have been made one way or the other.

Wyatt said the intent was to simply ask whether a smaller community like Cedar City needs to have two police departments.

“Or, do we combine our resources and have a stronger full-community police force that serves the community and university together?” he asked.

Wyatt cited other examples in Utah where different jurisdictions are handled by the same law enforcement agency. He mentioned in particular how Salt Lake Community College and its satellite campuses are now served by Utah Highway Patrol.

“They’re about three times as large as us, and they have about 12 different campuses spread out in Salt Lake County,” Wyatt said. “Salt Lake Community College, a few years ago, decided that they would move away from having an internal police department to an external department. So they contracted with the Utah Highway Patrol and they feel like that was a positive thing.”

SUU Police Department building, Cedar City, Utah, July 11, 2020 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“We’re just simply asking the question that a lot of other places have asked,” he said.

Wyatt cited his own 17 years as a criminal prosecutor, saying he worked closely with law enforcement officers from various different agencies, which he called a “super positive experience.”

Wyatt said the current inquiry, which was initially discussed in May, should not be seen as a negative reflection on the SUU Police Department.

“The number of complaints that we have is extremely low,” he said. “So this isn’t a reflection of anybody not doing their job well. It’s just a reflection of a small community with a small university.”

Wyatt addressed several audience questions during the meeting, including what would happen to the SUU Police Department’s six officers, some of whom have been with the department for 15 years or more, should the department be discontinued. 

Other questions addressed the specialized services that campus police provide, some of which are not typically handled by city police.

Wyatt said such issues and questions will be taken into account when and if the university decides to move forward. He said such a decision could be weeks or even months away.

“If I was to do this as a baseball analogy, I would say that we’ve invited the city to play, and we’ve got our balls ready to go, standing on home base, the pitcher’s mound, and nobody’s thrown the first ball yet,” he said. “So, we haven’t even gotten to first base. But when we do, we’ll be happy to share with everybody.”

Wyatt invited anyone who wants to send in their ideas, comments or opinions on the issue to contact him via email. Input may also be sent to either Cedar City Police Chief Darin Adams or SUU Police Department’s interim chief, Joshua Neilson.

Contacted by Cedar City News at his office on Monday, Adams said although he couldn’t discuss the details, he did confirm that he and his department are working on a proposal to submit to SUU soon, likely within the next two weeks.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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