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'Women Against Private Police' group launches petition drive to put Johns Hopkins police force on 2020 ballot

A group of Baltimore residents who live near Johns Hopkins campuses have filed formal paperwork to launch a petition drive to put the creation of an armed Hopkins police force on the 2020 ballot to let voters decide.

The organization “Women Against Private Police” formed a ballot issue committee Wednesday to fight the creation of the Johns Hopkins police force that was authorized recently by both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly.

The legislation creating the force is awaiting the signature of Gov. Larry Hogan, who has said he supports the bill.

Jillian Aldebron, chairwoman of Woman Against Private Police, said she needs to collect 69,132 signatures by June 30 to block the legislation from becoming law and put the decision before the voters.

“I’m hoping to put it before a popular vote,” Aldebron said. “There were a lot of people who were very seriously opposed to this measure. Our legislators weren’t listening to us.”

Jared DeMarinis, the Maryland State Board of Elections’ director of candidacy and campaign finance, said the ballot drive raises an interesting legal question — because spending bills cannot be challenged at referendum and the Hopkins police bill contains appropriations for community projects and youth funding.

But Aldebron said her group will not seek to challenge the spending provisions in the bill, only the creation of the force.

“We don’t oppose the entire bill,” she said.

Aldebron acknowledged that it would be a difficult task to gather nearly 70,000 signatures from around the state.

“We know it’s going to be almost un-doable,” she said. “But we think the citizens of Baltimore have a democratic right to do this.”

Maryland lawmakers this week gave final approval to the Hopkins police bill. 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.

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, its medical campus in East Baltimore and the Peabody Institute conservatory in Mount Vernon. The patrol area includes some nearby public, residential streets.

The police officers can only patrol beyond their defined perimeter if Hopkins gains support from neighbors, but they can respond to nearby public emergencies.

The bill also requires the state to provide millions of dollars in funding to community programs in Baltimore.

Aldebron said she hopes to get help with the petition drive from Hopkins students who have been protesting the creation of the force and other opponents.

“My street would be patrolled by Hopkins officers,” she said. “I only just bought this house. If I thought I was buying a house on a street constantly controlled by private police, I never would have done that.”

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