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Key Baltimore senators endorse amendments aimed at approving Johns Hopkins police force

Key Baltimore senators on Wednesday voted to endorse a series of legislative amendments designed to win the Maryland General Assembly’s approval of an armed Johns Hopkins police force.

Baltimore’s Senate delegation voted to endorse amendments to legislation authorizing a Hopkins force that would limit the areas officers can patrol, require a quarter of the officers to live in the city and subject the private university’s police to public information requests, among other requirements.

Sen. Antonio Hayes, a West Baltimore Democrat who is chairman of the city’s Senate delegation, said he was hopeful the amendments would help speed up a vote on the proposed force.

Hayes argued that the delegation needs to move beyond the Hopkins debate to free up senators to focus on what he considers more pressing issues, such as the future of the Pimlico Race Course and legislation to provide $1 billion more in funding for improving Maryland’s public schools.

“There are so many other things for us to consider this legislative session,” Hayes said. “I would like to either approve or reject this Hopkins bill so we can get on to the more important things that affect the citizens of Baltimore.”

With the city’s six-member Senate delegation taking different positions on the bill, its success or failure could come down to a single Baltimore senator’s vote. The rest of the Senate is likely to defer to the delegation’s wishes.

Hayes scheduled a voting session on the Hopkins legislation for Thursday afternoon.

Baltimore Sens. Mary Washington and Jill P. Carter have expressed concerns about the bill, arguing that it’s a dangerous precedent to empower a private entity with police powers.

But Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam — who represents both the city and Baltimore County — has indicated tepid support. Hayes and Sen. Cory V. McCray of East Baltimore have said they would be open to supporting the bill, but only if it is amended.

McCray has said the force needs to hire from within Baltimore and must be restricted in where it can patrol. He has called addressing his objections “non-negotiable.”

Sen. Bill Ferguson, who represents Southeast Baltimore, is recusing himself from the vote because he is a Hopkins employee.

Hopkins officials — including university President Ronald Daniels — have argued that the city’s “unrelenting” violence shows the institution needs to create a police department.

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 Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Baltimore. Hopkins — as a private institution — is not currently authorized to have such a force.

The Hopkins 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 the YouthWorks summer jobs program. It also calls for the Hopkins police force to establish at least one Police Athletic League center in Baltimore. The bill also mandates the state contribute $10 million for capital spending on community development projects.

On Wednesday, the city senators voted to endorse a series of amendments aimed at making the bill palatable to McCray and Hayes.

The senators voted to endorse amendments from Hayes to require Hopkins police wear body cameras and comply with the Maryland Public Information Act, including requests to see complaints of misconduct against officers.

They also voted to endorse Hayes’ amendment to bar the university from shielding officers from lawsuits using government-immunity arguments.

The senators also voted to support amendments from McCray that would limit the number of officers on the Hopkins force to 100 and require an accountability board overseeing the force to be confirmed by the Senate.

The amendments would restrict Hopkins police patrols to its three Baltimore campuses: the Homewood campus, the Peabody Institute and the East Baltimore medical campus. The force would only be allowed to patrol nearby if the university gains support from neighboring community associations. Officers could, however, respond to an urgent public safety emergency near the campus, the amendments state.

Even as the delegation moved ahead with the bill, Washington and Carter asked to delay the vote.

“We're giving a private entity police powers,” Washington said. “Nobody else has this in the state of Maryland. We're trying to be very careful.”

Washington’s proposals to amend the legislation to require funding for Morgan State University and more civilian oversight of the Hopkins force were rejected by a majority of the delegation.

“I realize there is a desire from some people to rush this through,” Carter said. “I am not one of those people.”

Several community members attended the delegation meeting Wednesday and said it was difficult to track the quickly changing status of the bill.

Andrea Fraser, a research assistant at Hopkins who lives near the school, said she’s concerned the process is being rushed.

“We’re very concerned with this proposal,” Fraser said. “There’s a general feeling of disappointment with the process.”

The Hopkins legislation has the support of a number of powerful figures, including Gov. Larry Hogan, Rep. Elijah Cummings, Mayor Catherine Pugh, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and billionaire alumnus Michael Bloomberg.

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