Several Baltimore City Council members expressed concerns about the creation of a Johns Hopkins University police force at a virtual town hall Wednesday evening.
“I don’t like it. I don’t trust it. The process was not transparent,” said Councilman Robert Stokes Sr., joined by Antonio Glover and Odette Ramos, who also serve on the council.
The town hall, hosted by Ramos and Glover, to discuss a memorandum of understanding between Johns Hopkins and the Baltimore Police Department, started with presentations from the university and the city police, similar to town halls hosted by the university in September.
When it was opened to community members, who could speak for two minutes each, many shared concerns similar to those of the politicians.
At the start of the event, 54 attendees were on Zoom, Ramos said, and she was adamant that all voices would be heard, even if the event ran long. That didn’t happen at Hopkins-hosted town halls, during which select comments were read aloud. Ramos and Glover remained in the virtual meeting past its scheduled 7 p.m. end, though Hopkins and Baltimore Police officials left the call.
In addition to Glover, Ramos and Stokes, attendees included Eric Melancon, Justin Conroy and Michelle Wirzberger of the Baltimore Police and Rodney Hill and Rianna Matthews-Brown from Hopkins. Branville Bard Jr., Hopkins’ vice president for public safety and leader of the proposed police force, did not attend as he was recovering from surgery, but made a prerecorded statement, Matthews-Brown said.
Ramos asked questions about jurisdiction and how currently defined policing boundaries would affect residential properties within or immediately adjacent to the campus areas.
Matthews-Brown, deputy chief of staff in the Hopkins president’s office, said adjacent areas fall into Hopkins jurisdiction only if the officer is in fresh pursuit. Hill said 911 calls at private residences adjacent to the campus areas would be answered by Baltimore Police, though he would expect officers to intervene if they witnessed a mugging near the jurisdiction area.
“I obviously have a lot of concerns about this particular arrangement,” Ramos said.
Matthews-Brown said the process for approving Hopkins’ memorandum has been more transparent than others, which normally don’t include town halls.
Public commenters noted that Hopkins’ two in-person town halls were shut down by protests.
“The JHU town halls were a farce,” wrote Soha Bayoumi in the chat.
Though council members clarified that the City Council doesn’t have formal authority to stop the memorandum or the creation of the Hopkins police force, community members asked council members whether they could pass a resolution opposed to the memorandum.
Joel Andreas asked Hill, who is a senior adviser to Bard, if he could assure the public that Hopkins had no plans to extend jurisdictional boundaries later on, a process that would require community support. Hill said he hasn’t heard of any plans to expand jurisdiction but added that he cannot promise what will happen in the future.
“I predict [expansion] will happen,” Andreas said.
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Dan Richman, a Hopkins faculty member, Baltimore resident and member of Jews United for Justice, said research has shown Baltimore policing to be “violent, racist [and] ineffective.”
“Hopkins history is replete with instances where, despite claims of public involvement and attention to public needs, it acts in its own best interests at the expense of Baltimore,” Richman said. “We see this, for example, in the displacement of residents of East Baltimore; that’s only in the last couple of decades.”
He said Jews United for Justice strongly opposes the creation of a Hopkins police force.
Commenters asked whether Question H, a charter amendment to transfer control of the Baltimore Police Department from the state back to the city, which received overwhelming support in this week’s general election, will impact the memorandum’s passage. Ramos said finalization of city control of the police will take two years, too long to impact the memorandum.
Lester Spence, who identified himself as the longest-serving Black tenured faculty member at Hopkins’ Homewood campus, said a university police force would not deal with the most important crimes students deal with, such as sexual assault. He also expressed concern that an armed private police force would risk squelching peaceful student protests and asked Hill to respond.
Hill said recent protests, including a 2019 monthlong sit-in to oppose the police force, show that student rights have not been inhibited.
Students said they have experienced retaliation for protesting the police force. Following the 2019 sit-in, seven protesters were arrested.