BALTIMORE — After a string of 16 gunpoint robberies around Johns Hopkins’s main campus in Homewood last fall, university President Ron Daniels began to think the school’s force of 1,000 security personnel and the tens of millions of dollars it spends on security each year might not be enough.
Daniels cleared his schedule for two weeks in November, gathered up four aides and traveled across the country to learn how other large, private, urban schools protect their campuses and communities. They visited the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, the University of Chicago and the University of Southern California in Los Angeles to ask about their police departments.
“That was an important experience for us,” Daniels told the Baltimore Sun. It made clear, he said, that Hopkins is “dramatically out of step with our peers.”
At Daniels’s request, the Baltimore delegation to the General Assembly has agreed to introduce legislation that would enable Hopkins to become the first private university in Maryland with its own police department. Uniformed, armed, sworn police officers would patrol Hopkins’s university and hospital campuses in Baltimore.
Such departments are common at universities outside Maryland and at public universities in Maryland. The Hopkins plan has the support of Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl D. De Sousa and Mayor Catherine E. Pugh.
“To the extent these universities have their own police forces, it allows us to take our folks and focus them on the streets and in the neighborhoods,” Pugh said.
Others are less positive. Hopkins students have protested the idea, and city and state legislators want more information and more public debate. City Council members have complained that Hopkins went to the state delegation before informing them of the plan.
Councilman Robert Stokes Sr., whose East Baltimore district includes parts of Hopkins hospital, said he was blindsided by the plan, even though he’s been working to build a better relationship with university officials.
“How do you build a trusting relationship with Hopkins and they keep doing the same thing over and over and over?” he said. “We already have a police force. We don’t need another police force.”
Daniels’s concerns about crime mirror worries across Baltimore. Several communities are turning to private guards to supplement a police department that Pugh says needs 1,000 more officers. Guilford, Mount Vernon and other neighborhoods have long employed private security guards. A business group in Federal Hill is planning to launch security patrols on the Orioles’ Opening Day to reassure customers from the suburbs. A group of Canton residents tried last year to crowdfund a private guard.
But the Hopkins plan is something different: A new force of uniformed, armed and sworn police officers controlled by an institution with a historically troubled relationship with Baltimore’s African American community, at a time when policing in Baltimore is under federal scrutiny. Daniels faced tough questioning Friday as he made his case before Baltimore’s delegation to the House of Delegates — a group whose support the legislation will almost certainly need to move forward.
The lawmakers asked why the legislation was introduced without open debate and sought more information on whether and how the force would be accountable to the public.
Del. Cheryl D. Glenn, the Baltimore Democrat who introduced the bill in the House on behalf of Hopkins, said she couldn’t currently support it.
“I believe that the way you go about achieving something is very important, and right now this process has not been inclusive of the community at large,” she told the Sun. “There are all kinds of ancillary issues that have been a part of Johns Hopkins University’s history that we would need some assurances as to their appreciation for diversity and how issues of diversity would be addressed.”
Daniels said he wanted a law authorizing the creation of a police department in place before airing details. He called the legislation a “prerequisite to a serious discussion.”
After the hearing Friday, Daniels said he welcomed the lawmakers’ questions.
“It was good,” he said.
The Hopkins president said the school has been paying closer attention to security since the unrest of 2015. As violent crime in the city spiked over the last three years, the university’s security budget grew 40 percent. At the Homewood campus, it doubled to $24 million.
The college employs unarmed special police with arrest powers, and some off-duty police officers moonlighting as guards. Some 75 guards patrol the Homewood campus nightly.
Even with those investments, Daniels said, members of the community have been targeted in particularly troubling crimes: A professor swarmed in his car, a student pulled off a bike and pummeled, and nurses and patients at the university hospital held up.
Over the winter, the consultants and candidates who interviewed to become the school’s new head of security underscored what Daniel’s fall tour had shown him: Hopkins needed to supplement its existing forces with a group of sworn officers.
“We decided it was imperative that we move quickly to secure these powers and start to build this cadre,” he said.
Questions of accountability
The legislation before the General Assembly provides few specifics about how such a force would operate or be held accountable. The regulation of private university police departments varies across the country.
The Maryland bill is just five pages long. It would allow any private university in Baltimore to establish a police department under a written agreement with the mayor. It would permit officers to carry guns and make arrests both on and off campus.
The Baltimore City Council has voted unanimously to pass a resolution seeking the bill to be amended to give the council a vote on the creation of any such department.