Advertisement

After student’s death, Morgan State pushes for expanded policing, secure housing and a summit on crime

Morgan State University officials proposed an array of new safety measures in the wake of the second fatal attack near its campus in recent months, including fast-tracking a new dorm and expanding the campus police force.

Many of Morgan State University President David Wilson’s ideas would require approval from the school’s Board of Regents or from the Maryland General Assembly. Meanwhile, he said, the campus is secure.

Advertisement

“We want to make sure that anyone who is coming into Northeast Baltimore near Morgan State University knows that we are extremely serious with keeping our community safe," Wilson said.

The focus of Wilson’s proposals is on the neighborhoods that surround Morgan State, where violence has been more frequent. Manuel “Manny” Luis Jr., a 19-year-old Morgan student who was shot and killed a few weeks ago, was found just outside the Morgan View apartment building, which isn’t managed by the university but is a housing option for university students.

“The biggest issue is off-campus life. That’s the issue,” said Kweisi Mfume, chairman of the university’s Board of Regents and former head of the NAACP. “And unfortunately we can’t wave a wand and change Baltimore overnight.”

That’s why Wilson said he wants General Assembly funding to add 20 officers and a few extra staff members to Morgan’s police force, which would bring its total to 62 members, as well as a rule change that would allow Morgan’s officers to patrol off-campus.

In an email to Morgan’s student body July 17, Wilson discussed convening a “National Summit on Black on Black Crime” at the university in the fall.

“The summit does not have to be labeled this way, but someone has to start talking about and tackling this problem which is destroying our communities,” he wrote in the email. “I can think of no more appropriate institution to undertake this than our own university.”

Wilson said he’s received hundreds of email responses on the issue so far.

State Del. Curt Anderson, who lives close to Morgan’s campus, said he’s in favor of Wilson’s plan to bring on more officers and to give them greater range.

“The city’s already overburdened and it seems like some of this violent crime has spilled over to Northeast Baltimore,” Anderson said. “I’m not just the elected person; my interest is because I’m a homeowner and a citizen who walks the campus of Morgan or rides my bike on the campus of Morgan virtually every day.”

Morgan State University’s police department has jurisdiction over “property that is owned, leased, operated by, or under the control of the University,” with few exceptions, according to state law. As a result, the department plans to seek statutory changes that would allow for joint policing of nearby areas by Morgan police and the Baltimore Police Department, Morgan Police Chief Lance Hatcher said.

Jessica Kupper, a resident of the Original Northwood neighborhood near the university, said she fears that if Morgan’s police force patrolled her neighborhood, residents there might get less attention from city police — and that might mean slower response times to their calls for service.

“I think it can get a little gray if you start extending a university patrol to parts where the university isn’t,” said Kupper, a former president of the Original Northwood Association and current member. “I can see how it could get a little muddy.”

Wilson’s ideas are additions to a security plan the school has been pursuing for years, which included the installation of more than 1,000 cameras on the campus, the hiring of an outside security firm that has provided unarmed guards and the backing of the redevelopment of the Northwood Shopping Center to include Morgan State public safety offices.

Kareema Weaver, a rising senior at Morgan State, said the safety measures Wilson’s advocating are long overdue.

Advertisement

Weaver remembered her friend, Marcus Edwards, who was stabbed to death a mile away from Morgan’s campus in 2016. His death came several months after another Morgan student was stabbed to death in the Morgan View apartments’ parking lot after a basketball game.

“We need to do more as far as safety, especially because a lot of the students here aren’t from Baltimore City,” she said. “We learn [safety procedures] at orientation, but we’re 18- to 20-year-olds who think we know everything, so it’s like ‘blah, blah, blah’ until it actually hits home and you lose a friend.”

She’s living off-campus this school year, and said she wouldn’t feel safe walking home in the dark, especially not alone.

Dominick Pryce, an incoming freshman who was on campus this summer for orientation, called the recent violence near Morgan “worrisome,” but said safety and self-defense briefings at his orientation were helpful.

When Morgan students arrive on campus in the fall, they can expect to see more frequent shuttle buses from off-campus housing like Morgan View to the campus itself, Wilson said. At the moment, the shuttle that serves those areas makes several stops, but going forward, it will go directly to the campus, said Wilson, adding that the goal is to have these shuttles arrive once every 15 minutes, as opposed to the roughly 30 minutes in the existing system.

But most of his other planned improvements, which include adding a security booth near Morgan View, a well-lit walking path to campus and a protective barrier around campus dorms, will take time.

A plan to raze the Thurgood Marshall complex on campus and replace it with a 700- to 1,000-bed housing project will require the go-ahead from Morgan’s Board of Regents, and then coordination with the Maryland Economic Development Corp.

Morgan’s Facilities Master Plan states that the two-tower project will be comparable to the Clarence Blount Towers dormitory project, which cost $37 million in 1991.

Plans are to bring a new proposal for the housing project to the board in August, Wilson said, and to have that new housing open for residents in the fall of 2022.

Next on the list are plans to raze O’Connell Hall and create new housing in its place, and to refurbish the campus’s historic dorm buildings.

Morgan’s regents generally favor plans to increase campus housing, Mfume said, especially because of the rise in enrollment.

From 2015 to 2018, the university’s undergraduate enrollment increased by several hundred, climbing close to 6,000, according to reports from the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

Advertisement

Wilson also said he’s reaching out to Morgan View managers, asking them to increase the complex’s parking, so students don’t have to park their cars on the nearby streets.

Morgan View officials declined to comment for this article.

For Juane Robinson, a rising senior who plays for Morgan’s football team, the biggest issue is the openness of the campus to the northeast Baltimore neighborhoods that surround it. Robinson said he’d like to see more entry points that require students to swipe their university ID cards.

“There’s a lot of crime around here, and then you can just walk right on campus and do what you want to do,” he said.

In a July 12 letter to the office of Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, Wilson requested a meeting that he dubbed a “Safety Summit” between Morgan State representatives, city officials and community groups.

Wilson wrote that he’d like to explore a “strategy whereby the Baltimore Police Department, working collaboratively with our campus police, can provide greater protections to our entire campus community.”

“Morgan State University is an important anchor institution in the City of Baltimore. We have worked well with the campus community and with residents of the surrounding neighborhoods and will continue to do so," wrote Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, in an email.

For Justin Taylor, a rising junior at Morgan, security concerns might mean fewer students will take advantage of the opportunities the university offers, and might turn to college options in safer parts of the Baltimore area, like Towson University and Loyola University Maryland, although they’re more expensive.

“It’s literally sad how you got to pick your poison as to what you want: Do you want to be in more debt, or do you want to be in a more open vulnerable environment?”

But Kupper said she “absolutely” feels safe in her neighborhood, and she has the area’s residents to thank. She said they’re the kinds of people who offer to accompany her on the walk home from her car late at night, and who meet up at socials and get to know one another.

“I know I sound like Mr. Rogers, but I truly think neighbors make all the difference,” she said.

Advertisement
Advertisement