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Hopkins’ leaders: Delay in police force caused by concerns about public safety and civil rights | READER COMMENTARY

Hundreds of doctors, nurses, medical and supporting staff at Johns Hopkins Hospital showed up Friday for the #WhiteCoatsForBlackLives movement. They took a knee for nearly 9 minutes and read the names of police brutality victims. Recently, Hopkins decided to “pause” for at least two years a controversial plan to implement an armed police force at its facilities.
Hundreds of doctors, nurses, medical and supporting staff at Johns Hopkins Hospital showed up Friday for the #WhiteCoatsForBlackLives movement. They took a knee for nearly 9 minutes and read the names of police brutality victims. Recently, Hopkins decided to “pause” for at least two years a controversial plan to implement an armed police force at its facilities. (Ulysses Muñoz/Baltimore Sun)

The Baltimore Sun editorial board contends that Johns Hopkins University’s decision to pause implementation of a sworn police department for at least two years is a sign that we were neither serious about public safety nor about civil rights (“Hopkins police force ‘pause’ signals that safety was never a key consideration,” June 16). In truth, we have reached this point because we are profoundly concerned with both.

Johns Hopkins, like all institutions in Baltimore, is affected deeply by violent crime. It was a sustained rise in threats to the safety of our students, faculty, staff and neighbors that led us to explore ways to improve upon our extensive security operations, and ultimately to seek authorization to create a campus police department, as all public universities in the city have. The challenges we face in confronting violent crime have not abated.

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We studied the research The Sun cites on the crime-reducing impact of sworn police capability. We also understood that if we added this capability, we had to do things differently. This decision came amid the Black Lives Matter movement, after the death of Freddie Gray from injuries sustained while in police custody, and after the Department of Justice reported in painful detail on the legacy of unconstitutional practices by the Baltimore Police Department. We had a moral responsibility to seek a different kind of department and to fold it into a holistic strategy that paired crime reduction with community development.

We got feedback through more than 100 community meetings and town halls and worked with the General Assembly on what is among the most forward-thinking pieces of university police legislation in the nation. It mandates body cameras, puts civilians on trial boards, eliminates civil immunity for officers, bans military-grade weapons and equipment, establishes an accountability board, and requires a host of community-oriented policing policies. As The Sun said in endorsing it, “we believe this legislation provides a strong basis for establishing the kind of police Baltimoreans want to see more of” (“In key ways, Hopkins police would be more accountable than Baltimore police,” Feb. 14, 2019).

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But the national outrage at George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officers has expanded the possibilities for police reform. Changes that were non-starters before — such as elimination of the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights — may be achievable now. It would be irresponsible for us to move forward without determining how we can benefit from these advances. And we will not sit still during this time. Other elements of our comprehensive approach to safety like violence interruption, addiction treatment, and public health first responders are in motion. We want to spend the next two years learning from the emerging national consensus around policing, making investments in alternative approaches to preventing violence and re-examining our conclusions about how to keep our community safe.

Seeking to establish the JHPD was not an easy decision and pausing its formation wasn’t either. But given the additional reforms that are now possible, we believe it was the right choice to responsibly improve safety in the long run.

Ronald J. Daniels and Paul B. Rothman, Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, president of Johns Hopkins University and dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Add your voice: Respond to this piece or other Sun content by submitting your own letter.

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