Some Baltimore City Council members are asking the Police Department to stop deploying officers to patrol the areas around the Johns Hopkins institutions in East Baltimore.
Four council members sent a letter to interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle saying they were “alarmed” to learn city officers are being diverted toward the Hopkins campus and hospital and away from some of the city’s most violent areas.
“In a City that continues to struggle with an understaffed Police Department, combined with consistent spikes in violent crime, the discovery that officers, who are provided taxpayer-funded salaries, have been diverted away from their jobs to work shifts for a private institution is cause for concern,” the letter says. It was signed by Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and council members Brandon Scott, Robert Stokes and Shannon Sneed.
Their request revives a politically charged debate over Johns Hopkins’ security measures. The university unsuccessfully pushed earlier this year for legislation that would have allowed it to create its own private police force.
In a joint statement, Johns Hopkins Medicine and university officials defended the police help. The crime in Baltimore, officials wrote, has caused others to flee while Hopkins is investing and growing in the city.
They said Hopkins’ concern is to assure the safety of its thousands of employees, patients and students. “Recent Baltimore police deployment in these neighborhoods are all on city streets and neighborhoods, not on Johns Hopkins property; the officers are under Baltimore police command, and patrol areas are determined based on criminal activity and trends,” the statement said.
The practice of deploying Baltimore police for a specific Hopkins detail began under former Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, who was fired in January by Mayor Catherine Pugh.
In a tweet sent Monday, Davis accused the politicians of grandstanding.
“The city's largest employer, biggest university and world-renowned hospital experiences unprecedented crime and the BPD responds,” Davis tweeted. “Those who blocked JHU from starting its own police department now pull this political stunt.”
Young rebuked Davis’ assertion that the letter was about scoring political points. He said the council members are doing their jobs by sounding an alarm about officers being redirected from their districts, which are struggling with high crime rates.
“We’re facing all these murders and shootings and carjackings and robberies and he’s taking officers and putting them up at Hopkins,” Young said. “I’m appalled.”
Davis said his decision was “a sound police deployment based on violent crime statistics.” The officers are not sent onto the Hopkins campus, he said, but rather the surrounding neighborhoods, which were seeing an uptick in crime when Davis ordered the deployment.
“It’s vitally important Baltimore remain a good partner to Johns Hopkins because of the value Johns Hopkins brings to the city’s residents,” he said. “This is a solid, if not unusual response, to a violent crime trend. I fully stand by my decision to add this extra deployment.”
He said the politicians should “leave the policing to the police department.”
Police spokesman T.J. Smith said only that Tuggle is evaluating the deployment.
Mayor Catherine Pugh said at her Wednesday press conference presented a long list of ways Hopkins has contributed to the city. The university and hospital are integral parts of the city, and the officers are sent to protect that community. She said she’s confident in the way Tuggle decides to deploy officers.
“Our police departments are strategically located in areas that are important to all of us,” she said. “Baltimore’s police department is engaged in protecting and serving the citizens of Baltimore, the visitors that are here, the students that are here, the communities in which they live. That is the job of our Baltimore police officers.”
It is unclear how many city officers have been assigned to the Hopkins detail. The police department said in a letter to council members that seven officers are involved, but Young said the department told him there are actually 12.
The council is asking the department to release information about how long the officers have been patrolling at Hopkins and what they’ve been paid.
Questions about Hopkins security have riled politicians before.
Earlier this year, the Baltimore delegation to the General Assembly introduced legislation that would have allowed Hopkins to become the first private university in Maryland with its own police department.
University President Ron Daniels, who pushed for the bill, said it was necessary to bring Hopkins in line with its peer institutions, especially after an uptick in crime near his campuses and across the city.
But amid questions over transparency and accountability — including from members of the City Council — state lawmakers killed the legislation. Student groups also protested the idea, saying there were widespread concerns about racial profiling and police brutality.
The university already has about 1,000 security personnel. Since the unrest of 2015, and the subsequent spike in violent crime in Baltimore, the university’s security budget has grown by 40 percent. It doubled to $24 million at the Homewood campus, according to information provided by the university in March.
There are four Hopkins campuses in Baltimore.
The East Baltimore campus is home to the schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Public Health and hospital.
The institution employs unarmed special police with arrest powers, and some off-duty police officers who moonlight as security guards.
In a letter given to council members, Deputy Commissioner Andre Bonaparte described the work of the city officers this way:
“They focus on the Johns Hopkins footprint as well as the neighborhoods that immediately surround the footprint,” he wrote. “The focus of the enforcement is engaging with business owners and citizens, as well as being visible to deter illegal activity to include larceny from autos and burglaries.”
Bonaparte’s letter said the officers in the Hopkins detail do this during their regular Police Department shifts.
In addition, officers working overtime also are deployed daily to the Johns Hopkins emergency room and the Kennedy Krieger Institute, Bonaparte wrote.
The city is trying to get a better handle on rampant overtime spending that officials say stems from a shortage of patrol officers. Tuggle announced a plan last month to reassign 115 officers from other units to patrol assignments.
Police Department rosters for May showed that on some days more than 40 percent of patrol officers were working overtime shifts, a perennial issue that costs the city millions.
That’s part of the reason, council members argued, that officers assigned to a Hopkins detail be immediately returned to their regular patrol duties.
“We, as a city, can’t afford to have officers pulled from a severely understaffed district to police foley the art located near a private institution,” they wrote.