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Hopkins president pitches Maryland lawmakers on need for police force; students, community advocates push back

A day after 12 people were shot in Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University President Ronald Daniels told state lawmakers in Annapolis that the city’s “unrelenting” violence shows the need for his institution to create its own armed police department.

In marathon hearings Friday in different committees of the General Assembly, opponents of the proposed Hopkins police force — including a group of medical students in white coats — argued armed officers at and around the private school’s properties would do more harm than good, exacerbating what they called a “vicious cycle of mass incarceration.”

Supporters, however, told lawmakers that something must be done to combat Baltimore’s high crime rate.

“The front page of The Baltimore Sun is especially jarring this morning, but not unprecedented,” Daniels told Baltimore’s House delegation. “At Hopkins, we worry about not only the large increases in aggravated assaults, armed robberies and shootings around our campuses, but also the unrelenting pace of murders and shootings all over our city — 12 shootings yesterday alone.”

The university employs a private security force of roughly 1,000 people to monitor its Homewood campus in North Baltimore and the medical campus that surrounds Johns Hopkins Hospital in East Baltimore.

The proposed university police department of about 100 officers would replace a unit of armed, off-duty Baltimore Police Department and sheriff’s deputies that Hopkins pays to patrol near the campuses.

Maryland law allows public institutions to operate police departments, including Morgan State University, Coppin State University and the University of Baltimore. But Hopkins — a private institution — is not currently authorized to have such a force.

Daniels told lawmakers the department would have several oversight boards and public reporting requirements. The Hopkins president also said he’s pushing back against descriptions of the department as a “private” entity — even though Hopkins is a private institution.

“I want to respectfully but unequivocally reject the characterization that many have used that this legislation creates a private police force,” Daniels said. “To my mind, I believe this is and can be public policing at its best.”

Several people testified, however, that more police officers in Baltimore would do little to address the city’s long-standing crime problem. Advocates for more funding for youth programs and violence-intervention strategies, such as the Safe Streets program, said such preventative, anti-crime measures need support more than law enforcement.

Dayvon Love, policy director for the Baltimore think tank Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, said creating a Hopkins police force would mean embracing tough-on-crime strategies that have led to mass arrests in the city and had no positive long-term effect on crime.

“Law enforcement-centric approaches to public safety do not work,” Love said. “We need to invest in different approaches.”

Hopkins student Max White recounted the institution’s long and strained relationship with Baltimore’s black residents. Famously, some relatives of the late Henrietta Lacks are seeking compensation from Hopkins for the use of her cells in research that led to decades of medical advances.

“Hopkins has a history of systematically neglecting and exploiting the community,” White said. “I urge you to consider how this police force would impact the lives of people in the East Baltimore community."

The legislation’s success could come down to how the 22 legislators who represent Baltimore in the General Assembly decide to vote on the issue. A majority of those lawmakers told the Sun they are undecided on whether to support the force.

Hopkins says the force is badly needed as Baltimore experiences a large increase in violent crime, including suffering more than 300 homicides a year for the past four years.

From 2014 through 2017, aggravated assaults, including nonfatal shootings, more than tripled across Hopkins’ campuses, according to the university. Robberies, including armed robberies and carjackings, increased by 250 percent, the school said. There were 45 aggravated assaults in 2017, the university said, and 28 robberies.

Bishop Douglas Miles, a leader with the faith group Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, said he wished a police force at Hopkins wasn’t necessary.

“We would desire that no institution — public or private — would have the need for armed security,” Miles said. “But currently in this city, we all know that is the world as it should be, not as it is. BUILD stands in support of this legislation.”

Also, to address concerns about only using a single approach to reducing crime, the legislation would require millions in new money for youth programming. The Hopkins police bill — named the Community Safety and Strengthening Act — would require the state to provide $3.5 million for city youth programs and another $1 million for YouthWorks summer jobs. It also calls for the Hopkins police force to establish at least one Police Athletic League center in Baltimore.

The House version of the bill also mandates the state contribute $10 million for capital spending on community development projects.

During the hearing, Del. Nick Mosby, a Baltimore Democrat, raised the issue of the source of the youth program funding.

“There’s a significant amount of mandated funds from the state’s perspective,” Mosby noted, “but there aren’t really any ... funds from Johns Hopkins.”

The legislation also would give the proposed Hopkins force wide latitude for where it can patrol. It says the force could operate on any property “owned, leased or operated” by Johns Hopkins, its hospital or its Peabody Institute conservatory. The bill also says Hopkins police may patrol property surrounding the campuses, including sidewalks, streets and garages.

Del. Brooke Lierman, a Baltimore Democrat, noted there’s no requirement in the legislation that the Hopkins police force comply with the Maryland Public Information Act. Daniels said he was open to discussing that suggestion.

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