Johns Hopkins police force bill clears major hurdle with endorsement by Baltimore senators

A majority of Baltimore’s state senators voted Thursday to endorse legislation to create an armed police force at the private Johns Hopkins University, meaning the bill cleared a major hurdle to its passage.

By a 3-2 vote, the city Senate delegation backed legislation authorizing the force after imposing limits on the areas officers can patrol and requiring a quarter of the 100 officers to live in the city, among other restrictions.

Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, a Democrat who represents the city and Baltimore County, said she was compelled to vote in favor of the force because of the city’s persistently high crime rate. For four consecutive years, Baltimore has suffered more than 300 homicides.

“What’s happening in Baltimore city is nationally known,” Nathan-Pulliam said. “Every night I go home, there’s another murder.”

The Hopkins police force, she argued, provides an opportunity to “try to curtail some of this crime.”

Joining Nathan-Pulliam in support of the legislation were Sen. Antonio Hayes, a West Baltimore Democrat who is chairman of the city’s Senate delegation, and Sen. Cory McCray of East Baltimore.

Baltimore Sens. Mary Washington and Jill P. Carter voted against the legislation, arguing that it’s a dangerous precedent to empower a private entity with police powers.

“I’m very disappointed with the passage of this bill out of this delegation,” said Carter, who argued that the process was “clearly rigged.”

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

The vote was likely the toughest hurdle the legislation will have to overcome. The rest of the Senate is likely to defer to the delegation’s wishes in both the Judicial Proceedings Committee and on the Senate floor.

Del. Cheryl Glenn, a Baltimore Democrat, introduced a companion bill in the House of Delegates, where it has yet to receive a vote.

But the city’s Senate delegation — home of four new senators who replaced more centrist incumbents after running campaigns from the left — is considered the more progressive chamber where the bill was in greater jeopardy.

News of the Senate delegation’s vote was met with bitter resignation at a community meeting Thursday night in Charles Village.

Robbie Shilliam, a Hopkins political science professor, said he was “sickly disappointed” by the development.

“The voters will remember this decision,” said Stephanie Saxton, a Hopkins graduate student and member of Students Against Private Police, which sponsored the event on Facebook. She applauded Senators Washington and Carter for “representing the will of the people.”

Though he said he was “highly suspicious of anything that Hopkins does,” Charles Village resident Bill Harvey, 72, said that the Senate’s vote Thursday night reflected Hopkins’ shrewdness in advancing its goals in Baltimore. The university has eight lobbyists working in Annapolis.

“What Hopkins wants, Hopkins gets,” Harvey said.

Hopkins officials — including university President Ronald Daniels — have argued 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 officers 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’s senators voted to endorse a series of amendments aimed at making the bill palatable to McCray and Hayes.

The senators amended the bill at Hayes’ suggestion 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.

And the senators 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 legislation would restrict Hopkins police patrols to the Homewood campus, the medical campus and the Peabody Institute in Mount Vernon. 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.

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.

But more than 60 Johns Hopkins University faculty members have signed an open letter in opposition to the police force.

The faculty echoed concerns from students who have organized over the last year through the Students Against Private Police group.

“Black and brown students and Baltimoreans are already disproportionately targeted,” they wrote. “Private police on campus are likely to exacerbate racial profiling, with even more dangerous and potentially fatal consequences.”

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