The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Dozens of Hopkins faculty members sign letter opposing private police force

BALTIMORE — More than 60 Johns Hopkins University faculty members have signed a letter in opposition to proposed state legislation that authorizes the school to create a campus police force.

The faculty members wrote that a police force employed by the university would be “undemocratic” and “antagonistic” with Baltimore’s nonwhite population. The introduction of new armed police officers, they wrote, could pose an increased safety risk and “inevitably amplify the climate of fear and justify their roles by citing stops, arrests, and detainments.”

The faculty echoed concerns from students who have organized over the past 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.”

State Sen. Antonio L. Hayes and Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (both D-Baltimore City) introduced legislation this session that would create the force through a memorandum of understanding with the Baltimore City police. Hearings are scheduled in Annapolis on Friday for both bills.

If the legislation passes, Johns Hopkins would join several other Baltimore schools that already have their own police forces, including Morgan State University, Coppin State University and the University of Baltimore.

Hopkins’s plan is to convert its current security force into a police department with about 100 officers. The university employs a private security force of about 1,000 people to monitor its Homewood campus in North Baltimore and the medical campus that surrounds Johns Hopkins Hospital in East Baltimore. The police force would replace a group of armed off-duty Baltimore police officers and sheriff’s deputies that Hopkins pays to patrol near the campus.

“Johns Hopkins University welcomes the engagement of our campus community, neighbors, alumni, elected officials and others who have voiced their views on legislation to establish a small, community-oriented and publicly-accountable university police department,” Johns Hopkins spokeswoman Karen Lancaster wrote to the Baltimore Sun last week after a student protest. “The overall response to Senate Bill 793 has been quite positive, as the bill addresses the concerns raised previously. . . . The bill as written requires unparalleled oversight and accountability to State and local government and the public, more than any other law enforcement body in Maryland.”

Hopkins says its force is badly needed as Baltimore experiences an increase in violent crime, including more than 300 homicides a year for four consecutive years. Aggravated assaults in the East Baltimore and Homewood areas reported to Baltimore police jumped from 50 in 2014 to 98 in 2018, according to figures reported by Hopkins. Robberies increased from 45 to 97 over the same period.

Students Against Private Police have cast doubt on the crime figures. The recent faculty letter stated, “Johns Hopkins rightly expresses concern about the ‘physical, social, and economic well-being of the city in which we live,’ but it is inconceivable to us that a private police force run by the university to patrol the neighboring communities would improve these relations. We strongly oppose this highly undemocratic proposal.”

Although the push for a new police force failed last year, the lobbying effort to authorize an armed police force at the university has won over Gov. Larry Hogan (R), state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh (D), Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) and billionaire alumnus Michael R. Bloomberg. However, the majority of Baltimore’s legislators in the General Assembly said they remain undecided on the bill.

To address concerns, Johns Hopkins has proposed three oversight boards, and the legislation would require millions in new state money for youth programming.

— Baltimore Sun

Luke Broadwater contributed to this report.