After a string of 16 gunpoint robberies around Johns Hopkins’ main campus in Homewood last fall, university President Ron Daniels began to think the school’s force of 1,000 security personnel and the tens of millions of dollars it spends on security each year might not be enough.
Daniels cleared his schedule for two weeks in November, gathered up four aides and traveled across the country to learn how other large, private, urban schools protect their campuses and communities. They visited the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, the University of Chicago and the University of Southern California in Los Angeles to ask about their police departments.
“That was an important experience for us,” Daniels told The Baltimore Sun. It made clear, he said, that Hopkins is “dramatically out of step with our peers.”
At Daniels’ request, the Baltimore delegation to the General Assembly has agreed to introduce legislation that would enable Hopkins to become the first private university in Maryland with its own police department. Uniformed, armed, sworn police officers would patrol Hopkins’ university and hospital campuses in Baltimore.
Such departments are common at universities outside Maryland and at public universities in Maryland. The Hopkins plan has the support of Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa and Mayor Catherine Pugh.
“To the extent these universities have their own police forces, it allows us to take our folks and focus them on the streets and in the neighborhoods,” Pugh said.
Others are less positive. Hopkins students have protested the idea, and city and state legislators want more information and more public debate. City Council members have complained that Hopkins went to the state delegation before informing them of the plan.
Councilman Robert Stokes, whose East Baltimore district includes parts of Hopkins hospital, said he was blindsided by the plan, even though he’s been working to build a better relationship with university officials.
“How do you build a trusting relationship with Hopkins and they keep doing the same thing over and over and over?” he said. “We already have a police force. We don’t need another police force.”
Daniels’ concerns about crime mirror worries across Baltimore. Several communities are turning to private guards to supplement a police department that Pugh says needs 1,000 more officers. Guilford, Mount Vernon and other neighborhoods have long employed private security guards. A business group in Federal Hill is planning to launch security patrols on the Orioles’ Opening Day to reassure customers from the suburbs. A group of Canton residents tried last year to crowdfund a private guard.
But the Hopkins plan is something different: A new force of uniformed, armed, sworn police officers department controlled by an institution with a historically troubled relationship with Baltimore’s African-American community, at a time when policing in Baltimore is already under federal scrutiny. Daniels faced tough questioning Friday as he made his case before Baltimore’s delegation to the House of Delegates — a group whose support the legislation will almost certainly need to move forward.
The lawmakers asked why the legislation was introduced without open debate, and sought more information on whether and how the force would be accountable to the public.
Del. Cheryl Glenn, the Baltimore Democrat who introduced the bill in the House on behalf of Hopkins, said she couldn’t currently support it.
“I believe that the way you go about achieving something is very important, and right now this process has not been inclusive of the community at large,” she told The Sun. “There are all kinds of ancillary issues that have been a part of Johns Hopkins University’s history that we would need some assurances as to their appreciation for diversity and how issues of diversity would be addressed.”
Daniels said he wanted a law authorizing the creation of a police department in place before airing details. He called the legislation a “prerequisite to a serious discussion.”
After the hearing Friday, Daniels said he welcomed the lawmakers' questions.
“It was good,” he said.
The Hopkins president said the school has been paying closer attention to security since the unrest of 2015. As violent crime in the city spiked over the last three years, the university’s security budget grew 40 percent. At the Homewood campus, it doubled to $24 million.
The college employs unarmed special police with arrest powers, and some off-duty police officers moonlighting as guards. Some 75 guards patrol the Homewood campus nightly.
Even with those investments, Daniels said, members of the community have been targeted in particularly troubling crimes: A professor swarmed in his car, a student pulled off a bike and pummeled, and nurses and patients at the university hospital held up.
Over the winter, the consultants and candidates who interviewed to become the school’s new head of security underscored what Daniel’s fall tour had shown him: Hopkins needed to supplement its existing forces with a group of sworn officers.
“We decided it was imperative that we move quickly to secure these powers and start to build this cadre,” he said.
Questions of accountability
The legislation before the General Assembly provides few specifics about how such a force would operate or be held accountable. The regulation of private university police departments varies across the country.
The Maryland bill is just five pages long. It would allow any private university in Baltimore to establish a police department under a written agreement with the mayor. It would permit officers to carry guns and make arrests both on and off campus.
The Baltimore City Council has voted unanimously to pass a resolution seeking the bill to be amended to give the council a vote on the creation of any such department.
Councilman Brandon Scott, who chairs the council’s public safety committee, said he introduced the resolution because he’s concerned the legislation would allow Hopkins and the mayor to agree in private to the terms under which the new department would operate.
“The public gets cut out,” he said.
Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said he has spoken to the sponsors of the legislation about that change and others he’d like to see.
“I’m not for or against,” he said. “But I want to make sure that if they are able to do their police force that they are subject to the ordinance of council.”
The three other private universities in Baltimore — Loyola University Maryland, the Maryland Institute College of Art and Notre Dame of Maryland University — said they have no plans to create a private university police force should the legislation pass.
The police departments at the city’s public universities — Morgan State University, Coppin State University and the University of Baltimore — operate under written agreements with the city. The Baltimore Police Department has not complied with The Sun’s public records request for those agreements.
Leonard Hamm knows both city policing and campus policing. The former Baltimore police commissioner now leads Coppin’s department.
He said the university’s 27 officers work in close collaboration with city police. They patrol the West Baltimore campus and the streets around it. When they make arrests, they take the suspects to the city’s Central Booking facility.
Hamm said his department’s philosophy is more progressive than that of the city because his officers work on the assumption that 99 percent of the people they encounter are law-abiding citizens.
“We are guardians of our community,” he said. “Our job is to help our students and faculty to help solve its problems.”
Under agreements with the public universities, Baltimore police spokesman T.J. Smith said, city officers continue to investigate the most serious crimes.
Leaders of campus police departments elsewhere say they free up city police. Maureen Rush, superintendent of the University of Pennsylvania force, said her officers take nearly 150 emergency calls off the Philadelphia Police Department’s plate each month.
The bill before the General Assembly would grant campus police the special due-process provisions the state gives other officers under the Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights and, according to a state legislative analyst, would not subject a private department to the state’s transparency laws.
At Friday’s hearing, Del. Brooke Lierman warned that lawmakers wouldn’t have the budgeting and oversight powers they can exert on the public universities’ departments.
Del. Mary Washington questioned whether suspects arrested by the Hopkins officers would be protected by the Constitution. She sought advice from the Maryland Attorney General’s office, which said that people would have the same rights in their dealings with Hopkins officers as with any other police.
Elsewhere, the lack of a guarantee of transparency has made the activities of some campus police departments difficult for the public to track.
All schools, public or private, are required under federal law to report basic crime data. But at a private university, complete police reports might not be available to the public.
“Most private universities seem to regard themselves as immune from public record laws,” said Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information.
Only a handful of states have passed laws ensuring private universities’ police records are open to the public.
“The ability to take away people’s freedom and to use deadly force is the greatest power in the hands of government,” LoMonte said. “When the government assigns that power out to a private organization, it’s absolutely essential for the public to know how that power is being used.”
Some private universities have instituted transparency measures voluntarily.
David Tedjeske is the Mid-Atlantic regional director of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. At Villanova, where Tedjeske is director of public safety, a police oversight committee reports to senior university officials.
“That’s another check and balance that’s helpful in terms of accountability,” he said.
Minority students concerned
Chisom Okereke said she and her black friends at Hopkins have a running joke: When they don’t wear Hopkins gear, people assume they’re not actually students of the university.
Okereke is vice president of Hopkins’ Black Student Union. Since the university made its police plan public, she said, the joke has been less funny.
With police on campus, Okereke said, she worries that the consequence of someone assuming that black young adults don’t belong on campus could be more severe than just a dirty look.
“We are going to be seen as a threat — as the Baltimoreans they feel they have to protect themselves against,” the 20-year-old public health major said.
Students have protested the college’s plan, saying they’re worried about racial profiling and being beaten by officers. A petition against a private police force has garnered more than a thousand student signatures.
One student group has created an online document encouraging people to share their negative experiences with the university’s current security force. Many worry the force could further alienate Hopkins from the surrounding neighborhoods.
At the University of Chicago, one of the institutions Daniels visited in the fall, allegations of profiling have dogged the police department’s relationship with the surrounding community.
The university rolled out a plan three years ago to make the department more transparent. Officials committed to posting details of all traffic stops and field interviews conducted by officers. They now provide daily updates that include the reason for each stop, whether a search was conducted and the race and gender of the person stopped. Since the spring of 2016, officers have worn body cameras, and videos are randomly audited.
But Ava Benezra, a former student activist at the school, said it was “pretty horrifying” that Hopkins is looking to her alma mater for advice.
Despite improvements since she graduated in 2015, Benezra said, the department has a long history of discrimination that became painfully apparent to her during her first week on campus.
“They gave us a good-faith promise that they would end stop-and-frisk,” she said. “But only being accountable to a private organization, they can renege on that anytime. There’s no real system of accountability.”
A University of Chicago spokeswoman said the department prohibits racial profiling.
“All formal complaints of racial profiling or biased-based policing against police personnel are investigated by an independent University of Chicago civilian investigator who is not a member of the police department,” Marielle Sainvilus said in a statement.
Daniels said he discussed the department’s past when he visited and is confident Hopkins can learn from the “mistakes, stumbles, failures” other institutions have experienced.
“There is a set of best practices that have evolved over time,” he said.
Off campus, neighbors are divided on the plan.
Jerry Gordon owns Eddie’s Market of Charles Village, which sits two and a half blocks from Hopkins’ Homewood campus. He said he’s in favor of a private university police force, and he’s not alone: When the proposal came up at a recent meeting of the North Charles Village Business Association, he said, he didn’t hear any negative reactions.
The store has dealt with shoplifting in the past. Gordon said a more visible police presence would deter crime.
“We can never have enough safety in that neighborhood,” he said. “I don’t see the police as an intrusion, I see them as protectors. It’s good for the students and it’s good for the neighborhood.”
Sandy Sparks, a former president of the Charles Village Civic Association, said she’s had positive experiences with Hopkins’ security, and supports allowing the university to launch a police department.
“There’s no question that Hopkins is concerned and wants to address safety concerns for everyone — for their staff, their students and everyone in the surrounding community,” she said. “They’ve done a lot of, frankly, homework to arrive at this decision.”
But Sparks agreed that Hopkins leaders had not done a good job of communicating their intentions to the public.
Even with legislation, Daniels said, the university would not rush the creation of a police department. He said his team would take time to think through any pitfalls and gather input from the community — a process he said could take years.
“Something that we understand is that the control of this public power comes with public responsibilities,” he said.
“The kinds of expectations people have on our campus or off with respect to transparency and accountability, these are values we will be fully respectful of.”