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Johns Hopkins’ third private police force town hall held online without incident after earlier ones disrupted; voters file for injunctive relief

The Johns Hopkins University held its third and final scheduled community town hall online Friday, a calm contrast from the previous two in-person town halls that ended in protests.

The same day, three voters announced they have petitioned the Baltimore City Circuit Court to grant permanent injunctive relief, which would prevent the Baltimore Police Department from signing the memorandum of understanding drafted in partnership with Hopkins.

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The virtual-only town hall featured Hopkins Vice President for Public Safety Branville Bard Jr., Executive Director at Baltimore Community Mediation Center Erricka Bridgeford, Baltimore Police Deputy Commissioner Eric Melancon, public safety senior adviser Rodney Hill and moderator Kera Ritter — the same crew that hosted the past two livestreamed town halls following protests. The panel answered moderator questions as well as submissions collected since the first town hall Sept. 22.

More than 200 viewers attended the livestream and Bridgeford acknowledged “most” submissions were read, but priority was given to discussing the memorandum.

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The moderator posed questions about topics such as the current status of the Hopkins police force, what the memorandum covers and how Hopkins police would improve public safety. In response to the latter question, Bard said the force would help their partner, the Baltimore Police Department, which he says is understaffed, increase response time as well as produce officers familiar with the campuses so they “won’t lose valuable time.”

The Baltimore Police Department received a $28 million funding increase this year.

Community comments touched on requests for further mediation, how the police force will impact overwhelmed 911 call centers and whether officers will be trained to respond to overdoses and sexual assault — which they will. Bard also addressed concerns of officers possibly turning off body cameras, and he mentioned implementing technology that would turn them on automatically.



Where JHU's planned police force could operate




A commenter said they were worried about Hopkins having an armed force since other nearby private universities do not have armed security.

“Why do you think it should have this unique right?”

Bard said an armed police department allows Hopkins to respond to violent incidents. Bard said this will be a small, publicly accountable police force.

Another commenter said that Hopkins President Ron Daniels has wanted Hopkins police to patrol the communities and that the memorandum could allow for the extension of jurisdictional boundaries.

“Will you commit to taking out language about arresting people well beyond campus boundaries?” the submission asked.

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“First of all, it doesn’t matter what any body wants or what anybody’s desires are,” Bard said. “What matters is what the legislature authorized.”

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Bard clarified that the memorandum only allows the force to have jurisdiction over immediately adjacent property and that expansion would only occur with majority community support. He said that is not a city- or Hopkins-led effort.

A faculty member submitted a comment supporting the force and that they are “afraid of being shot or mugged” on campus, so much so that they’ve considered leaving Hopkins. Bard said this is a comment he hears “all too often.”

The chat enabled on the YouTube livestream mainly filled with comments and questions critiquing the police force and its staff.

The law requires Hopkins to host at least two public town halls ahead of finalizing the memorandum, a document necessary for the creation of a private armed university police force as well as the establishment of defined responsibilities between Hopkins and the Baltimore Police Department.

The Hopkins police force is a hot button issue in the city and has been so for the past few years. Opponents have voiced concerns over possible police brutality and misconduct as well as how a private entity can hold officers accountable. Bard, the leader of the force, said an armed police force would provide a missing component to Hopkins’ comprehensive approach to addressing crime on campus.

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The memorandum is currently undergoing a 30-day community feedback period, during which three town halls have taken place. In mid-October, the memorandum will go to the City Council for another 30-day feedback period. Bard said his goal is to have a final version of the memorandum posted online by the end of the year.

Hill outlined that the following items are not subject to change within the memorandum: campus area jurisdictional boundaries, the definition of a university police officer, the use of body cameras and how Hopkins police will file reports.


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