Johns Hopkins Renews Push to Create Its Own Police Force

Johns Hopkins University main campus.

As Johns Hopkins University officials grapple with a continuing increase in the severity and frequency of crime at its Baltimore campuses, they are again pushing a plan to establish their own police department — an effort that was derailed just as quickly as it got under way earlier this year in the Maryland General Assembly.

In a letter emailed Monday evening to students, faculty, staff and neighbors, Ronald J. Daniels, the university president, and Paul B. Rothman, dean of the medical faculty and chief executive officer of Johns Hopkins Medicine, opened the door to “further clarification, debate and discussion” of adding a police unit to their security operation.

While conceding that additional airing of the matter was in order, and acknowledging that they “are actively looking for, and open to, alternative models and solutions” to a university police force, Daniels and Rothman seemed clear in their intent.

“Crime has not abated since last year, and we have not wavered in our belief that Hopkins must take steps to augment our capacity to protect our campuses and surrounding areas,” they wrote.

Specifically, their focus is the university’s Homewood Campus in North Baltimore’s Charles Village, the East Baltimore Campus, where the hospital is located, and the Peabody Institute Campus, downtown at Mount Vernon.

In the email, Daniels and Rothman announced a four-session series of public panel discussions on policing, beginning Oct. 29; two public forums where university officials will be available for questions and comment; officials’ availability for meetings with student groups, neighborhood associations and community leaders; and a website dedicated to the initiative (https://publicsafetyinitiatives.jhu.edu/), where feedback is invited, even if it is anonymous.

University officials did not anticipate the backlash to the proposal they saw earlier this year from students and the community – or from the Baltimore City Council, which, upon learning of the plan, unanimously passed a resolution calling on the General Assembly to amend any legislation to require their involvement and requesting the governor not sign any such legislation until it “includes checks and balances from all branches of Baltimore’s government.”

Enabling legislation cross-filed in the House of Delegates and Maryland Senate was introduced late in the session, on March 5, requiring action by the Rules committees to allow the bills to be considered. Hearings in both houses were scheduled — but then cancelled within two weeks of introduction.

By March 30, university officials had raised the white flag for the 2018 legislative session, agreeing to study the measure over the summer and discuss it further with the various communities in the interim.

Community leaders, and even some elected officials, complained they were blindsided by the proposal and did not have adequate time to review or consider it. Some community members and students also expressed a general distrust of police and raised concerns about Hopkins police becoming too closely affiliated the Baltimore Police Department, should the plan have been approved.

Adding to those concerns was the fact that in April, Melissa R. Hyatt, a retired high-ranking Baltimore police officer who had been chief of the Special Operations Division, as well as chief of patrol, became Hopkins’ vice president for security.

The proposal, while introduced at Hopkins’ behest, would have allowed any private university in Baltimore to establish a police department after signing a memorandum of understanding with the mayor. It would have provided for sworn, uniformed officers to carry guns and make arrests both on and off campus.

At present in Baltimore, police officers are now only in place at public universities and colleges – at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, Morgan State University, Coppin State University, University of Baltimore and Baltimore City Community College.

The legislation had the support of Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D) and then-police Commissioner Darryl D. De Sousa, who has since resigned after being charged with failing to file federal income tax returns.

The first panel discussion – “Introduction: Current Landscape of University Policing” – is 6 to 8 p.m. Monday Oct. 29, in the Norman I. Schafler Auditorium of the Bloomberg Center, Homewood Campus at 3400 N. Charles St.

Featured panelists are: Cedric L. Alexander, deputy mayor of Rochester, N.Y.; Leonard D. Hamm, former Baltimore police commissioner, now director of public safety for Coppin State University; Sue Riseling, executive director of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators; and Maureen S. Rush, the University of Pennsylvania’s vice president for public safety and superintendent of Penn Police.

The speakers’ lineup for second, third and fourth sessions have not yet been announced, but the topics to be discussed are: “Constitutional Policing and Police Accountability”; “Best Practices in Public Safety Training, Technology, and Operations”; and “Root Causes of Crime and Efforts to Address Those Issues.”

The two forums are each scheduled near to the two main campuses, Homewood and East Baltimore.

The first one is 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, at the 29th Street Community Center on 300 E. 29th St. The second forum is Monday, Nov. 26 (time to be announced), before the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition at 901 N. Milton Ave.

“It is our expectation that these multiple avenues for discussion and input will allow us to fully examine relevant research, consider the pros and cons of security models adopted by other universities, and gain a deeper understanding of the concerns that have been raised and how best to address them,” Daniels and Rothman wrote.

While there was no mention of the General Assembly in the Monday letter, officials have made clear that they intend to put forward a proposal to legislative leaders before the body convenes Jan. 9.

“We are mindful of the pressing nature of the security issues we currently face, and therefore are committed to preparing and circulating by early 2019 a full report on our consultations and to proposing a path forward,” they wrote.

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