Keeping Hopkins Hospital safe is in East Baltimore's best interests

Johns Hopkins employs about 24,000 people on its East Baltimore campus. Thousands more come there every day for medical care. More than 4,000 students attend the Johns Hopkins schools of medicine, nursing and public health. It is probably the largest single gathering spot of people in Baltimore on any given day when the Orioles or Ravens don’t play. On those grounds alone, it would seem entirely appropriate for the Baltimore Police Department to dedicate a few extra officers to patrol the area around campus as crime statistics warrant. You don’t need to get into an argument about Hopkins’ economic impact, its investment in the city or its efforts to provide employment opportunities for city residents (including those with criminal records) to see the reasonableness of sending a some more police to patrol the streets commonly used by those workers, students, patients and visitors to go to and from campus.

But as far as City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Council members Brandon M. Scott, Robert Stokes and Shannon Snead see it, the Baltimore Police Department’s decision to do that amounts to creating a “special patrol” that whereby “taxpayer-funded” officers are “diverted away from their jobs to work shifts for a private institution,” putting the other residents of the Eastern District at greater risk as a result. They point out that the Eastern District is both understaffed and suffering from out of control violence and that this arrangement takes several officers away from the most dangerous blocks. The four sent a letter to Interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle this month demanding that he return the officers to “their regular duties under their respective commanders” and calculate how much money the city has spent on the effort, the implication being that those costs should not have been borne by Baltimore residents.

There’s a lot to unpack here. Let’s start with the facts and then get into the strange attitude this incident displays about one of Baltimore’s most important institutions.

These officers — a grand total of seven of them, according to the police department, though Mr. Young says he’s heard it was more like 12 — are not working for Hopkins. Instead, they were deployed by then-police commissioner Kevin Davis after consultation with Hopkins officials to provide an extra presence in an area west of Broadway and north of Monument Street that had seen an uptick in crime. Their precise assignments have changed occasionally as crime statistics have warranted, but in any case they have not been patrolling on campus or in areas where Hopkins private, unarmed security operates. If the signers of the letter to Mr. Tuggle have any hope that all those thousands of people who come and go from Hopkins Hospital and its environs will patronize local businesses or even move to surrounding neighborhoods, you’d think they would be happy about that.

Hopkins does have some off-duty police officers working overtime on campus. Such secondary employment is common, and in this and other cases, it is paid for by the business, not the city. It does have some relation to the police department’s ongoing overtime problem, but not in the way that Hopkins’ critics might imagine. Hopkins’ use of such officers is not exacerbating the Baltimore Police Department’s chronic use of overtime to staff patrols; rather, the department’s mandatory overtime shifts are making it harder for Hopkins (and other businesses) to get officers for secondary employment.

Beyond the questionable grasp of the details, the letter reveals a view of Hopkins as something of an alien presence in the city. We certainly appreciate the history. Hopkins was not always a good neighbor in decades past, and it is beyond unjust that one of the finest academic medical institutions in the world sits in the midst of communities plagued by poverty and poor health outcomes. But in recent years, Hopkins leaders have recognized those facts and sought to address them both through deeper engagement in the surrounding neighborhoods and through public health and employment and local purchasing initiatives.

Have those efforts been perfect? Of course not. Just this year, Johns Hopkins leaders made a serious mistake in their rush to seek legislation authorizing the creation of a private police force on campus. The idea wasn’t wrong — most institutions like Hopkins, including most of Maryland’s public universities, have their own sworn, armed police forces — but it came too fast and with too little public input. Hopkins officials admitted their error and have put their push for a police force on hold while they work out the details and seek community support.

But as Mr. Davis pointed out last week, the same people now objecting to a few extra patrols by city police near one Hopkins campus are the same ones who objected most vocally to the private police idea. It’s as if they think the very notion that Hopkins should be concerned about the safety of its employees, students and visitors is somehow selfish. It’s not. Hopkins is not separate from the city. It is part of it. Some 15,000 Johns Hopkins employees live in Baltimore City. Untold thousands more rely on it for medical care. It is simply unfair to treat Hopkins as if it was a tumor sucking the life out of Baltimore rather than a vital organ.

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