Johns Hopkins President Ron Daniels has frequently cited the “brazenness” of crime as justification for a private police force at JHU, but even more brazen is Hopkins’ disingenuous PR campaign. Mr. Daniels and his PR team recognized that last year’s initiative failed partly due to its sudden announcement to community members, and they are now doing all they can to present a façade of community collaboration.
However, they have yet to acknowledge many community criticisms of creating the force in the first place, such as no real community accountability mechanisms, unclear boundaries of where Hopkins police would operate, and the perception that Hopkins lives matter more than all Baltimoreans’. Students Against Private Police, a coalition of students, faculty and community groups, agrees with these criticisms and fundamentally opposes the creation of a private police force.
Hopkins endorses “community and constitutional policing”; both promises ring hollow. Idealistic calls for community policing have persisted since the 1960s, but, time and time again, promises for community control of police just lead to intensified police control of the community. Instead of organically reflecting communities, police simply create the “community” they prefer, ignoring dissenting voices. Why trust JHU to do it differently now? At “community meetings” we have already seen the administration use selective practices of listening while prioritizing some “community members” over others.
Hopkins has “listened” to the community through several carefully curated forums noticeably lacking transparency or feedback. The first had a panel of police officials who already endorsed the police force. Other forums on constitutional policing and alternatives to police did not receive the same fanfare and occurred during the day, when most students and workers could not attend. At community forums at Homewood and East Baltimore, President Daniels and other administrators talked for over an hour before community members could respond. Audience members overwhelmingly expressed intense skepticism of Hopkins and a desire for real alternatives to private police. Yet, Hopkins has portrayed these forums as productive “dialogues” on the future of a private police force, not whether one should exist at all.
Although students, community members and politicians have repeatedly asked for Hopkins’ justifications for a private police force, real answers remain elusive. President Daniels cites a prior crime spike without noting this year’s decline in crime around the Homewood campus, or proposing any plans to disband the force if rates return to prior levels. Hopkins ignores the most destructive crime happening on campus: sexual assaults that the university repeatedly fails to act on. This year’s campus security report understates the number of cases of sexual assault, and in December we learned that a computing error prevented the JHU Office of Institutional Equity from responding to multiple complaints since 2016. Is this whom we should trust to oversee a private police force with no obligations for transparency and a life-and-death power over community members?
The real issue is whose safety really matters to Hopkins. Neighborhood residents worry that a private police force will merely push crime into other neighborhoods or contribute to gentrification that pushes them out altogether. They are right to worry. At JHU’s “model” institutions — the universities of Pennsylvania and Chicago — campus police repeatedly infringe on individuals’ legal rights and contribute to neighborhood gentrification. Both campus’ forces are notorious for racial profiling and abuses of power, culminating in last summer’s shooting of a U-Chicago student suffering a mental health crisis. These are the models Hopkins seeks to emulate, despite polling by the Hopkins undergraduate student government that shows over 75 percent of undergraduates surveyed oppose the creation of this police force.
Finally, some claim that Hopkins private police, despite potential issues, can’t be worse than the BPD. Hopkins officials repeat this claim when it suits their interests but have not transparently described the proposed force’s relationship to the BPD, and have, at other times, repeatedly mentioned the forces would be in close collaboration. VP of Security Melissa Hyatt, a former BPD lieutenant, would oversee the force, yet Hopkins officials have not clarified whether their police would be bound by the Department of Justice consent decree, or fundamentally why money will be spent on a private force instead of assisting the BPD’s continuing reforms efforts.
Most hires would likely receive training from the same suspect BPD academies. Even more concerning is the relationship a Hopkins force may have with the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police, which has blocked most police reforms.
Hopkins’ claim that it will create a model police force for the country is nearly impossible in practice. Despite their refusal of transparency, it is clear that the police force will only answer to a small class of administrators and not to community members, residents and lawmakers, as any proper police force should. For these reasons and more, Baltimoreans cannot trust Hopkins to have its own police, and we urge everyone to contact their representatives and say “no” to private police.
Quinn Lester (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University and member of Students Against Private Police.