Maryland senators are poised to vote on members of an accountability board that will advise a controversial private police force being established at Johns Hopkins institutions in Baltimore.
The board members sailed through the Senate Executive Nominations Committee, winning endorsement after facing almost no questions.
The group includes at least one opponent of the police force, and others who expressed hope that they could make sure the police don’t engage in problematic policing tactics.
Lorraine T. Dean, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, described herself as a “vocal opponent” of the police force.
Dean told senators Monday night that she felt that her expertise in public health could be useful in offering oversight and helping prevent “unanticipated consequences” from increased policing.
“At the very least, I feel I can contribute to creating something truly unique that truly protects people, that’s truly community-oriented, and that truly protects the health and safety of everyone, not just the Hopkins few at the expense of everyone else,” Dean said.
Edward Kangethe, an East Baltimore resident, described a rift that he said has developed between neighborhood residents and Johns Hopkins. He said he hopes the police department will end up as a resource for the community “and not just something that will be oppressive.”
Sonja Merchant Jones, an advocate for victims and witnesses in juvenile court, said she hoped she could help “build a bridge between the community and Johns Hopkins University and Medicine."
Other appointees, including Hopkins sophomore Pritika Parmar, said they supported the police force. She said she respects the perspective of students who are opposed to the force, but felt supporters of the police were drowned out because they didn’t have the loudest voices.
The 13 nominated board members include members of the Hopkins faculty and staff, students and people who live in neighborhoods near Hopkins’ Homewood academic campus, the Peabody Institute campus in Mount Vernon and the hospital campus in East Baltimore.
State lawmakers passed a bill last year that gave Hopkins the authority to create a department with armed police officers to patrol on and around its Baltimore campuses. Other police departments in the state are operated by public institutions, including cities, counties and state universities.
The police force bill was controversial, with opponents expressing reservations about allowing a private institution to employ police officers. Some questioned whether Hopkins was using its influence and financial resources to arrange for more policing than other parts of the city.
At least twice during last year’s General Assembly session, anti-police protestors were escorted from meetings after shouting and disrupting the proceedings. Meanwhile, some students staged a multiweek sit-in at the university to show their opposition.
The bill included a requirement for Hopkins to create the accountability board to ensure that community voices are heard as police policies are developed.
All board nominees were approved Monday by the Senate Executive Nominations Committee and now face a confirmation vote by the full Senate, likely later this week.