Maryland lawmakers have given final approval to a bill that will allow the Johns Hopkins University to form its own police force in Baltimore.
The Senate voted 42-2 to approve the final version of the bill, dubbed the “Community Safety and Strengthening Act.” The two votes against came from Baltimore’s Sen. Mary Washington and Sen. Jill P. Carter, who have both expressed deep reservations about allowing the creation of a police force for a private institution.
Washington said she believes fundamentally that “policing should be a publicly controlled entity and that privatization is not the way to go.”
Over the objections of student protesters, Maryland’s House of Delegates has voted overwhelmingly to approve hotly debated legislation to authorize an armed police force for the private Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The state Senate has passed a different version of the legislation.
Many of Maryland’s public universities have their own police departments, including including Morgan State University, Coppin State University and the University of Baltimore. But Hopkins — as a private institution — is not currently authorized to have such a force.
The bill will enable Hopkins to have a police force of up to 100 armed officers that will patrol in a defined area around its Homewood academic campus, the medical campus in East Baltimore and the Peabody Institute conservatory in Mount Vernon. The police officers can only patrol beyond their defined perimeter if Hopkins gains support from neighbors.
The bill also requires the state to provide millions of dollars in funding to community programs in Baltimore.
Johns Hopkins issued a statement thanking lawmakers for supporting the legislation, which creates “a small, accountable university police department subject to the highest standards and mandates of constitutional community policing and public accountability.”
“We also understand that differences of opinion remain on this topic, and we are firmly committed to working with our students, staff, faculty and neighbors to consider varying viewpoints and ensure public accountability, public transparency and public input within a JHPD,” the statement said.
University President Ronald J. Daniels and Johns Hopkins Medicine CEO Paul B. Rothman sent a letter to the Hopkins communities announcing the vote on Monday night. They wrote that the legislation was borne of an “urgent need for new solutions to address increased crime on and around” the Hopkins campuses.
“We take seriously the responsibility now vested in us by the state, and entrusted to us by our neighbors and community leaders, to create a university police department that makes real the ideals and best practices of 21st-century policing,” Daniels and Rothman wrote.
The Senate’s vote on Monday was to agree to some changes made to the bill in the House of Delegates and to pass that version of the bill, including adding a member of the university’s Black Faculty and Staff Association to the police department’s oversight board, prohibiting the use of surplus military equipment, requiring training on legal searches and requiring officers to wear and turn on their body-worn cameras.
The Senate vote came without debate or drama. When the House took its final vote last week, protesters shouted from the gallery, “No private police! No private police!” and were escorted out of the State House by police. The House vote was 92-42.