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DSU Police Chief recognized for community engagement after department turn around

Posted at 11:14 PM, Jan 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-26 01:14:08-05

ST. GEORGE, Utah — The Dixie State University Department of Public Safety Director is being recognized for his work to put the small police department front and center in Utah, when it comes to community policing.

For a police force with a full-time staff of seven, it might come as a surprise that the DSU Dept. of Public Safety is leading the way in bridging the gap between law enforcement and community members.

"Here's a wonderful example of how you can have small, very meaningful departments that have a huge impact on a campus when it leads with heart and purpose," said Dr. Tasha Toy, Assistant VP of Campus Diversity and Chief Diversity Officer at DSU.

She nominated DSU Police Chief Blair Barfuss for an award from the NAACP. He received the award last week, alongside several other first responders across the state who were recognized by the organization for their work in the community.

Dr. Toy talked about how Chief Barfuss was heavily involved in recent forums on campus focused on community and race relations with law enforcement after the death of George Floyd.

The department also created a campus police transparency web page to answer questions and flesh out their policies.

"I can tell from when he started to now, there has been a very big difference," Dr. Toy said.

Chief Barfuss explained what things were like at the beginning, when he was hired in May of 2018.

"There's a lot of things that were missing," he said, of the department. Things that he noticed immediately, even on his first day.

The chief described a department desperately needing direction.

"There was no policy manuals how police officers should respond to any kind of call, let alone sexual assault trainings and sexual assault guidelines and sexual assault standards," the chief recounted.

He said there was no implementation of the Lethality Assessment Protocol (LAP) or the trauma-informed victim interview, both of which he said are critical in how police investigate cases including sexual assault cases.

Chief Barfuss indicated that the DSU Dept. of Public Safety wasn't maintaining or managing its records system according to the Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI).

"Crime stats weren't being produced to the FBI," Chief Barfuss said. "One of the first things I was given, was a notice by the FBI of non-compliance."

On top of that, Chief Barfuss made a shocking discovery in the break room refrigerator on his first day.

"When I was putting my lunch into the break room refrigerator, I noticed some unsubmitted rape kits that should have been at the State Crime Lab," he remembered. "They were being held there and it opened up a whole other discussion as to, why are these in the break room refrigerator, not evidence?"

In the freezer, the chief said, he found human waste in evidence bags.

"It just snowballed, and it created this big urgency to really correct it," he said.

The urgency to correct came in the form of implementing department and policing policies, by creating of a full policy manual.

Chief Barfuss also made it a priority to build trust with students around campus. He said they learned that victims of domestic violence and sexual assault were scared to report to university police officers.

"We realized that we had to have some exerted effort around communication, openness, transparency, and show our victims of crime in our community that we can be approached," he said.

They hired a records administrator to keep maintain and manage the records. That employee, Chief Barfuss explained, is now also the department's victim advocate.

She reads the reports to learn the cases and helps victims go through the court process, he said.

The DSU Dept. of Public Safety also went through a third-party accreditation process from the Utah Chiefs Accreditation Alliance (UCCA)-- becoming the first university in Utah to do so, the chief said.

"We've completed the state accreditation, we are working on an international accreditation," he said. Chief Barfuss expects that international accreditation, through the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA), to be complete in the next six to eight months.

He described how the department utilized the findings of an independent review of the University of Utah Lauren McCluskey case and sat down with DSU administration to go point-by-point through the 30 recommendations given to the U of U, to see if DSU met or exceeded those standards.

"We are going to do everything possible to get in front of it and make our systems, and our policies, and procedures in line with best practices," Chief Barfuss said. "So that we can be successful in helping our community feel safe and secure."

Two and a half years later, they've come a long way as a department.

Chief Barfuss said they have a five-year strategic plan that's based off the growth of the students and community they serve. Now that they've locked down policies and procedures and nearly completed the second accreditation, he wants to focus on working more with student and faculty associations.

He said he wants to find out what their fears and concerns are, and make students, faculty, and staff an active part of public safety on campus.

Dr. Toy said the students and faculty appreciate it.

"And it's not just with our students. He also has done a wonderful job when it comes to his hiring practice with his staff," Dr. Toy said. "They are so diverse, they're young, they are veterans. They really do believe in community policing."

Community policing led by a small department, making a huge difference across the campus it serves.