Bard’s appointment, which will start Aug. 30, comes more than a year after the university said it would pause the development of a police force for at least two years, following nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd and calls for police reform.
The university has said a police force is necessary to protect students in a high-crime city. But students, employees and Baltimore residents have argued a private police force will negatively affect communities of color. In 2019, activists staged a month-long sit-in inside the school’s administration building, which ended with seven arrests.
Bard currently serves as commissioner of the Cambridge, Mass., police department. In the school’s announcement about Bard, officials touted his decades of experience reducing crime and improving police-community relations, as well as his reputation as an advocate for social justice, racial equity and police reform. Bard also served in his native Philadelphia, where he climbed the ranks and led the city’s largest police district, officials said.
“Dr. Bard has a stellar, decades-long track record as an effective, community-oriented law enforcement professional and as an outspoken and passionate advocate for social justice, racial equity, and police reform,” university President Ron Daniels, Johns Hopkins Health System President Kevin Sowers and Johns Hopkins Medicine chief executive Paul Rothman said in a statement. “His commitment to developing progressive approaches to public safety made him a clear choice.”
The announcement quickly drew criticism from groups opposed to the university’s plans to form a private police force.
“A Johns Hopkins police force will lead to more racial profiling and an increased risk of brutality for … students and employees and members of the surrounding community,” said the Coalition Against Policing by Hopkins, a collection of community and university organizations lobbying against the university’s plans. “The JHPD will not be accountable to the community but will actively police north and east Baltimore communities.”
Many public universities in Maryland have their own police departments but, as a private institution, Johns Hopkins needed authorization from the state to turn its security force into a police department. Following a lobbying effort by the university, Maryland lawmakers in 2019 approved legislation that permits the school to assemble a force of up to 100 armed officers.
In addition to overseeing the implementation of the police force, the university said, Bard will help lead two recently introduced public safety initiatives — the Innovation Fund for Community Safety, which will invest $6 million over four years into community-led programs designed to reduce violence, and the Behavioral Health Crisis Response Initiative, which is being developed to address behavioral and mental health needs on and around campus.
Bard, who was recommended by committee of students, community members and university employees after a national search, said he plans to spend the next several months building relationships with the Johns Hopkins community.
“Throughout my career I have held to a simple but powerful belief that the most important responsibilities of police are to protect the public and to defend the individual constitutional rights of the citizenry they are sworn to serve,” Bard said in a statement. “We do not have to choose between being safer and sacrificing civil liberties. With a public safety system centered on procedural and social justice, and grounded in listening to the community’s needs, we can do both.”