Johns Hopkins University's proposal to establish a private police force has garnered mixed reactions. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun video)
The Johns Hopkins University is renewing efforts to bolster security measures — including the possible addition of a police force — with a series of forums and community conversations through the end of the year.
The push comes months after the university failed to get buy-in from Maryland lawmakers to give Hopkins and other private universities in Baltimore the authority to create police departments with officers who carry guns and have the power to arrest people — on and off campus.
University officials say they have no specific proposal this time, although they called a Hopkins police force “one of the most promising options.”
In a message to students, faculty, staff and neighbors, Hopkins President Ronald Daniels and Paul Rothman, CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, said the institution is looking for solutions amid the violence in the city. Baltimore has seen 44 homicides in the last 30 days. With 258 killings in 2018 so far, the city is on pace to again top 300 homicides in a year. Last year, 342 people were killed.
“Crime has not abated since last year, and we have not wavered in our belief that Hopkins must take steps to augment our capacity to protect our campuses and surrounding areas,” Daniels and Rothman wrote. “Establishing a model university police unit that sets the bar for constitutional and accountable policing remains one of the most promising options we see. But there are a number of approaches that peer universities have taken, and we are actively looking for and open to alternative models and solutions.”
The officials also said they want the most effective security operation possible to respond to crime and to the threat of an active shooter.
By early 2019, Daniels and Rothman said, the university expects to have a proposal in place, given “the pressing nature of the security issues we currently face.” The General Assembly will reconvene Jan. 9 for a 90-day session.
Hopkins employs a private security force of roughly 1,000 people that monitors its Homewood campus in North Baltimore and the medical campus that surrounds Johns Hopkins Hospital in East Baltimore. They also patrol adjacent streets and neighborhoods, as well as Hopkins’ Peabody Institute in Mount Vernon. The guards are not armed, but Hopkins also hires off-duty Baltimore police officers and sheriff’s deputies who carry guns.
Maryland law allows public institutions to operate police departments, and many do. Morgan State University, Coppin State University and the University of Baltimore each run police departments under written agreements with the city.
Mayor Catherine Pugh backs the idea of Hopkins adding a police department, an administration spokesman said Tuesday. The mayor believes a university police force would allow city officers to focus elsewhere.
“She is supportive of this initiative and glad that the Hopkins leadership is pursuing a broad community engagement approach,” James Bentley said.
Sam Schatmeyer, president of Hopkins’ sophomore class, said the Student Government Association is soliciting feedback on the issue. So far, responses show many students, like Schatmeyer, are opposed, he said.
He called the creation of a Hopkins police department “terribly frightening,” from its potential for inequitable treatment of students of color to a risk of a restriction of free speech on campus. Schatmeyer also is concerned about the way a police force might impose the will of the institution’s leadership on Baltimore neighborhoods and the possibility of creating criminal records for students accused of minor infractions.
Sophomore Jason Souvaliotis is a member of the group Students Against Private Police. He said university courses — on topics such as gentrification and the systemic conditions that contribute to violence — are teaching him about alternative solutions to policing and controlling crime. Instead of a police force, Hopkins should double down on programs that create jobs and lift communities up, he said.
“Violence doesn’t just happen,” Souvaliotis said. “People turn to crime, usually, not because they want to, but because they have to.
Del. Cory McCray called the university’s decision to go directly to Annapolis earlier this year to petition the legislature for the power to create a police force short-sighted.
“We all will acknowledge that the way they did it wasn’t the best way to go about it,” said McCray, who represents part of East Baltimore.
Hopkins’ new approach is wiser, he said.
He said he is open to the idea of a police force, but many details need to be worked out first, such as the geographic boundaries of the areas officers would patrol, whether they would wear body cameras and how they would be disciplined. He is also eager to hear the reaction from city neighborhood leaders before making any decisions.
Hopkins officials say soliciting community feedback over the coming months is their objective.
The first event is set for 6 p.m. Monday on the Hopkins’ Homewood campus. A panel will discuss policing on college campuses. Speakers are to include Coppin State University public safety director Leonard Hamm, a former Baltimore police commissioner.
Other sessions in November and December will explore constitutional policing and police accountability, public safety training and technology and the root causes of crime.
Hopkins also is planning two forums where city residents and students, faculty and staff are invited to speak to university leadership. The forums are planned for 6 p.m. Nov. 13 at the 29th Street Community Center, 300 E. 29th St., and 6 p.m. Nov. 26 at the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition, 901 N. Milton Ave.
There are three other private universities in Baltimore: Loyola University Maryland, the Maryland Institute College of Art and Notre Dame of Maryland University. Officials with Loyola and Notre Dame said they have no plans to create private police forces. A MICA spokeswoman said Tuesday night that she was unable to comment.