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Alumnus, major donor Michael Bloomberg wants private, armed police force patrolling Johns Hopkins University

Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire ex-mayor of New York and benefactor of the Johns Hopkins University, said Tuesday it’s “ridiculous” the institution doesn’t have an armed police force.

“When you have a city that has the murder rate that Baltimore has, I think it’s ridiculous to think that they shouldn’t be armed,” Bloomberg said of the Hopkins security force.

Bloomberg, a potential Democratic candidate for president in 2020, spoke to reporters after closed-door meetings at the State House in Annapolis with Democratic lawmakers and state Attorney General Brian Frosh.

Johns Hopkins is seeking approval from the General Assembly for a private police force to patrol the university campus in Homewood, the hospital campus in East Baltimore, the Peabody Institute in Mount Vernon and the areas surrounding those institutions. The proposal has support from some key leaders, including powerful Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, but has met with opposition from others.

State Sen. Mary Washington, a Democrat whose Senate district includes the Homewood campus, has said she’s worried a campus police force at a private college such as Hopkins wouldn’t be accountable to the public — unlike similar police departments at public colleges.

She urged the university to come up with more creative ideas to solving Baltimore’s crime problem. Washington suggested Johns Hopkins sign a memorandum of understanding for a special unit of the Baltimore Police Department to patrol near the school.

“I look forward to having a conversation with Mr. Bloomberg about how we can improve public safety without private police functions,” said Washington, who holds a doctoral degree from Hopkins.

Last session, Baltimore lawmakers backed off a proposal to approve a police force at Hopkins amid a community backlash against the idea. Lawmakers from three districts that are home to Hopkins’ schools and hospitals said they were inundated by concerns from constituents. Acknowledging missteps last year, Hopkins officials said they are working with community leaders to build consensus for a force they see as necessary.

Bloomberg said having an armed police force would put Hopkins on par with other colleges that already have them. Bloomberg said it’s “irrational” for Hopkins not to be able to have the same security as similar schools, especially given its large number of employees. The Johns Hopkins institutions employ nearly 45,000 workers in Baltimore, making Hopkins the city's largest employer, according to the state Department of Commerce.

“One of the things I do hear all the time from people who are trying to decide where their kids are going to go to college, they are worried very much about the crime rate, and when they want to go to a hospital, they worry about the crime rate,” Bloomberg said.

A group of Hopkins students called Students Against Private Police expressed dissatisfaction with Bloomberg’s remarks. In a statement, the group said Bloomberg’s support for a private, armed police force is at odds with his other work to promote gun control.

“Bloomberg’s comments do reinforce the idea that Hopkins is not actually concerned with public safety but instead is focused on the perceptions of parents and others from out-of-town,” the group wrote in its statement.

Bloomberg has given billions to the Johns Hopkins University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1964. His most recent gift of $1.8 billion for financial aid, announced in November, represents the largest single contribution to an American university in history, according to Johns Hopkins. The Johns Hopkins school of public health is named for Bloomberg.

Bloomberg was in Annapolis on Tuesday to deliver the Forrestal Lecture to midshipmen at the Naval Academy in the evening. He planned to speak to the midshipmen about leadership.

During the day, he met with lawmakers to discuss gun control and other topics.

Sen. Jim Rosapepe, a Democrat representing Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, said Bloomberg mentioned the Johns Hopkins police force briefly but also discussed banning 3-D printed guns and other gun control measures.

State Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said Bloomberg didn’t press lawmakers on the Johns Hopkins police force.

“The Hopkins police force certainly came up,” he said. “It wasn’t in a lobbying way.”

Bloomberg’s staff said he did not seek a meeting with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. Hogan was presenting awards to farm families when Bloomberg was meeting with lawmakers and speaking with reporters.

pwood@baltsun.com

luke.broadwater@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

twitter.com/lukebroadwater

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