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Johns Hopkins drafts proposed police bill for Maryland legislators; it has transparency, oversight provisions

Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire ex-mayor of New York and major donor to Johns Hopkins, talks with reporters at the Maryland State House Tuesday about having an armed police force for the hospital and university. (Pamela Wood, Baltimore Sun video)

The Johns Hopkins University released its own draft Wednesday of a proposed state law that would allow it to establish a campus police force, including measures to address concerns about transparency and accountability by the private institution.

The 14-page draft bill spells out civil rights protections and oversight mechanisms that the university would have to follow if the General Assembly permits the creation of the force.

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The document emphasized that the proposed bill could change before a legislator formally introduces it.

Susan Ridge, a Hopkins spokeswoman, said the draft bill would establish a university police department with “more public and community accountability than any other Maryland law enforcement body.”

Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire ex-mayor of New York and benefactor of Johns Hopkins University, says it’s “ridiculous” that the institution doesn’t have an armed police force. Bloomberg spoke to reporters after closed-door meetings at the State House in Annapolis with Democratic lawmakers.

But Students Against Private Police, a campus group, issued a statement saying the draft legislation did not address its concerns. The organization called much of the language in the proposal vague and said the accountability provisions would be ineffective.

“Essentially, Hopkins would police residents it is not accountable to, and who have repeatedly opposed the creation of this force in the first place,” the group said.

Hopkins President Ron Daniels previously sketched out a plan for a 100-officer force that he says is needed to respond to increasingly brazen crime around the university.

But the idea of empowering the college to create an armed force to patrol its academic and medical campuses has been divisive.

After being criticized for rushing to have legislation on the issue introduced last year on its behalf, the university said it would go back to the drawing board and get input from community members.

Language in the current draft that is designed to guarantee civil rights protections go beyond what was initially proposed.

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Maryland Senate President Mike Miller says he'll push in the 2019 General Assembly session for several law enforcement initiatives in Baltimore, including approving a police force at Johns Hopkins University. Miller says he also wants to help the city hire 500 new police officers.

But it is not clear whether Hopkins has found a member of Baltimore’s delegation in Annapolis to back the measure.

“We are working with many supporters and potential sponsors and hope the bill will be introduced soon,” Ridge said.

She said the university believes the provisions in the draft bill and a study the university conducted of its safety needs will convince lawmakers to back the plan.

“We believe Maryland’s legislators share our desire to find solutions to reducing violent crime in Baltimore,” she said.

Del. Cheryl Glenn, the chairwoman of the Baltimore delegation in the House, said she had not seen the draft, but the legislation could be introduced by the end of the week.

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The proposed bill would limit the university police to its campuses and “adjacent” areas agreed to with the Baltimore Police Department.

Johns Hopkins President Ron Daniels has told members of the Baltimore City Council that he expects the university to again seek the power to create its own police force. He says the crime around the Hopkins' campuses is brazen, occurring even during the day and in front of witnesses.

City police would continue to investigate more serious crimes, such as robberies and shootings.

Opponents have said they worry about officers violating people’s rights and a private force not being accountable to the public.

The draft includes language that appears designed to assuage those concerns and calls for writing into law some oversight mechanisms for the department.

It seeks for the university’s officers to be subject to Baltimore’s civilian review board, an independent body that investigates complaints against police. It also proposes having two civilians sit on the discipline boards the university would be required to convene in some misconduct and brutality cases.

The legislation also would create a separate “accountability board,” which would be able to review the department’s data and policies, but wouldn’t have the authority to impose changes.

Ron Daniels joins BUILD in listening to community concerns about the Hopkins plan

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