Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said he will push this General Assembly session for several law enforcement initiatives in Baltimore, including approving a private police force for Johns Hopkins University.
Miller also said he wants to help Mayor Catherine Pugh hire 500 officers for the Baltimore Police Department and create a second police training academy at Coppin State University.
The Senate president, a Calvert County Democrat, said he believes state lawmakers need to help return a sense of pride to law enforcement in Baltimore.
“We’re going to find a way to make law enforcement a priority in Baltimore City, so people are proud to be policemen and so we reduce the number of capital crimes that are occurring substantially,” Miller said Tuesday in an interview with The Baltimore Sun.
Sen.-elect Antonio Hayes, chairman of Baltimore’s Senate delegation, said he believes Miller is committed to helping the city — and Hayes said he strongly supports opening an additional police training academy at Coppin.
“The Senate president has been very forthright that he wants to do something to help Baltimore,” Hayes said. “I’m confident that he genuinely wants to do something to help us out.”
Mayor Catherine Pugh said she met with Miller about her priorities for the city in the 2019 legislative session and getting aid to hire and train officers is part of that list. She said Baltimore has too few officers patrolling its streets, and that the city needs the state’s help to solve such issues.
Pugh often points out that during former Mayor Martin O’Malley’s tenure, the police department had about 3,000 officers, but the size of the force was reduced by about 500 positions during former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s administration.
Hayes said he’d like to see more support in the legislature for alternative anti-violence programs, such as Safe Streets, which enlists ex-offenders to intervene in disputes and prevent them from escalating.
“I’m not sure policing is the only answer for the problems we have here in the city,” Hayes said. “I would be very supportive of alternatives to address crime in Baltimore.”
In particular, Miller said he wanted to pass legislation during the session that begins Jan. 9 that would allow Johns Hopkins to create its own police department. Such agencies are common at public universities in Maryland, and at private universities outside the state.
Miller said the idea is a priority of billionaire philanthropist Michael Bloomberg, a longtime and lavish supporter of the university.
“Right now, it’s very important to the former mayor of New York City, who donated $2 billion so students of all income levels can come,” Miller said. “They need to feel safe. The parents need to make sure their students are safe. Morgan [State] University has their own police force. The University of Maryland has it. We need to allow Hopkins to have their own police force.”
Last session, Baltimore lawmakers backed off a proposal to approve a police force at Hopkins after 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.
State Del. Nick Mosby, a Baltimore Democrat, has been pushing for a police academy at Coppin for years. Mosby said a “state-of-the-art academy in West Baltimore that leverages Coppin’s current criminal justice school is a win-win situation.”
Mosby, however, questioned Miller’s push for police force at Johns Hopkins. He said he’d like to see more effort put into funding education, recreation and re-entry programs for people leaving incarceration.
“We’ve constantly taken this approach of, ‘How do we drive down crime?’ More police, more police, more police,” Mosby said. “We have this huge focus on more police. Where is the focus on addressing the issues that are the real systemic drivers of crime?”
During remarks at a recent unity event held at Ashburton’s Liberty Grace Church of God with the Jewish community, Pugh said she hopes to fill the number of vacancies within the Baltimore Police Department by increasing its training capacity and securing an expansion academy site with the help of Coppin State University.
With the number of officer applications soaring since the form went online in June, Pugh said, the department requires another facility to accommodate growth. While the city’s budget can accommodate 2,800 officers, she said, the department has fewer than 2,400 currently on staff, with about 200 leaving the department every year.
“We’re working with Coppin State University because I’m going to double train police officers,” Pugh said at the Nov. 18 event, adding that increasing the department’s ranks would reduce overtime spending. “I have got to have another training facility.”
From June through August — the first three months after instituting a new online application — the monthly average of submitted applications during the first months of 2018 climbed from 105 to 421, as 1,263 people applied. But the hike in submissions has not resulted in more hires.
“We don’t have the ability right now to process those applications,” Pugh said at the event. “Every police officer that can be, should be, is on the streets of our city.”
Pugh said Coppin State University is an ideal partner for this goal due to its proximity to the current training academy as well as the institution’s criminal justice program. She added that she would work with any institution that could offer similar guidance or support.
Angela Galeano, chief of staff to the president of Coppin State University, confirmed that the institution has “been in extensive discussions with the mayor’s office.”