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More than 60 Johns Hopkins University faculty members write letter protesting private police force

Students Against Private Police continues its efforts to oppose the creation of a Johns Hopkins University private police force. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)

More than 60 Johns Hopkins University faculty members have signed an open letter in opposition to proposed state legislation that would authorize an armed school police force.

The faculty members wrote that a police force employed by the university would be “undemocratic” and “antagonistic” with Baltimore’s nonwhite population. The introduction of new armed police officers, they wrote, could pose an increased safety risk and “inevitably amplify the climate of fear and justify their roles by citing stops, arrests, and detainments.”

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The faculty echoed concerns from students who have organized over the last year through the Students Against Private Police group.

“Black and brown students and Baltimoreans are already disproportionately targeted,” they wrote. “Private police on campus are likely to exacerbate racial profiling, with even more dangerous and potentially fatal consequences.”

Baltimore state Sen. Antonio Hayes and Del. Cheryl D. Glenn introduced legislation this session that would create the force through a memorandum of understanding with the Baltimore City police. Hearings are scheduled Friday in Annapolis on both bills.

If the bill is passed, Johns Hopkins would join several other Baltimore schools that already have their own police force, including Morgan State University, Coppin State University, the University of Baltimore and the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

Hopkins plans to convert a group of armed off-duty Baltimore police officers and sheriff’s deputies that the university currently pays to patrol near its campuses into a police department with roughly 100 officers. The university also employs a private security force of roughly 1,000 unarmed people to monitor its Homewood campus in North Baltimore and the medical campus that surrounds Johns Hopkins Hospital in East Baltimore.

A university spokesperson said the majority of that private security force would remain and “continue to play an important monitoring and reporting role.”

Responding to the faculty letter, Johns Hopkins spokeswoman Karen Lancaster referred The Baltimore Sun to a comparison it had done reviewing police forces at more than three dozen schools in the D.C.-Baltimore region and across the country and wrote: “We believe strongly that university police departments can and do make a meaningful contribution to public safety in Baltimore, and we at Johns Hopkins want to do our part.”

Lancaster added that the overall response to Senate Bill 793 has been “positive” and that it addresses concerns raised over the previous year.

“At an institution that employs more than 4,500 full-time faculty and teaches nearly 15,000 full time undergraduate and graduate students, we expect a variety of opinions on important issues, some expressed publicly and some expressed in meetings, correspondence and online comments,” she wrote.

Hopkins says its force is badly needed as Baltimore experiences a large increase in violent crime. The city has seen more than 300 homicides a year for four consecutive years. Aggravated assaults in the East Baltimore and Homewood areas reported to Baltimore police nearly doubled to 98 in 2018, from 50 in 2014, according to figures reported by Hopkins. Robberies increased to 97 from 45 over the same time period.

Students Against Private Police have cast doubt on the crime figures, though Lancaster said the numbers are publicly available.

The recent faculty letter stated: “Johns Hopkins rightly expresses concern about the ‘physical, social, and economic well-being of the city in which we live,’ but it is inconceivable to us that a private police force run by the university to patrol the neighboring communities would improve these relations. We strongly oppose this highly undemocratic proposal.”

Although the push for a new police force failed last year, the lobbying effort to authorize an armed police force at the university has won over people like Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings and billionaire alumnus Michael Bloomberg. However, the majority of Baltimore’s legislators in the General Assembly said they remain undecided on the bill.

To address concerns about over-zealous policing, Johns Hopkins has proposed three oversight boards. The legislation also would require millions in new state money for youth programming.

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