Spurred by a relentless rise in Baltimore City’s violent crime rate – and even raising the specter of an on-campus shooter – Johns Hopkins University officials are escalating efforts to convince the Maryland General Assembly to approve an independent police force for the institution.
University officials sent an email update Dec. 21 to students, faculty, staff and neighbors near to the institution’s three city campuses, making the case for a police force separate from the Baltimore Police Department and notifying them that they would again be putting the private police plan before the General Assembly, after weighing several options for enhancing security.
In the missive, which includes a web link to a 60-page report plus a series of exhibits in 27 appendices – a document sent to lawmakers Dec. 21 – officials also made clear they had done their homework in preparing the proposal for consideration by the newly elected legislature, which convenes Jan. 9.
That is in stark contrast to the 2018 legislative session, when the Hopkins police measure was introduced late and then aborted a little more than two weeks later, after community leaders and lawmakers balked, saying the plan had appeared suddenly and taken them by surprise.
The report, titled “Interim Study on Approaches to Improving Public Safety on and around Johns Hopkins University Campuses,” is a comprehensive examination of the need for a separate police force, but also includes an airing of community concerns, a study of root causes of violent crime and a survey of security practices at other campuses, both in and out of state. It also details the tens of millions of dollars the university already has put into campus security measures and citywide economic and social programs.
“The risks from criminal violence are real and must be met by us, as a community, with firm resolve,” wrote Ronald J. Daniels, the university president, and Paul B. Rothman, dean of the medical faculty and chief executive officer of Johns Hopkins Medicine, in the e-mail.
“After nearly a year of careful study and community discussions, it is our firm belief that a small, university-based, community-oriented, and research-backed police department – one that is authorized by the state and accountable to the public and to local government – is essential for Johns Hopkins,” Daniels and Rothman wrote.
The report endeavors to build a convincing case for a Johns Hopkins Police Department, but in doing so, it is as much an indictment of Baltimore law enforcement’s seeming impotence in controlling crime.
The report shows a precipitously sharp climb in Baltimore’s violent crime, which jumped nearly 32 percent between 2014 and 2017, ending the last year with 21,667 incidents citywide. Final numbers were not available for 2018, but the trend shows the city to be on track to match the 2017 totals, at the least.
Violent crime is defined as homicide, rape, aggravated assault (use of a weapon), common assault, robbery (commercial, residential, street robbery and carjacking) and shooting (non-fatal shootings are most often grouped with aggravated assault statistics).
The 32 percent citywide increase is reflective of rising violent crime trends around the university’s three campuses – Homewood, in North Baltimore’s Charles Village; East Baltimore, where Johns Hopkins Hospital is located, and the Peabody Institute, downtown at Mount Vernon.
As Johns Hopkins is subject to the federal Clery Act – which requires colleges and universities eligible for federal financial aid to annually report crimes on and near their campuses – the institution has very specific violent crime data for the areas around its three locations.
And those data are even more damning.
Between 2014 and 2017, aggravated assaults – including non-fatal shootings – jumped 350 percent, and robberies increased 250 percent within the university’s Clery Act area boundaries for all three campuses, the report states.
The most dramatic increase occurred on the East Baltimore campus, which saw a 1,000 percent increase in aggravated assaults between 2014 and 2017, with 33 incidents within that campus’ Clery Act boundaries the last year, the report states.
Those incidents have involved not just Hopkins students, faculty and staff, but residents of the surrounding neighborhoods and visitors, as well.
Security force has already grown
The rise in violent crime has occurred at the same time Hopkins has increased the number of full-time unarmed security offers to more than 1,100, plus another 63 “off-duty officers” hired from the Baltimore Police Department and deputies from the Baltimore City Sheriff’s Office. The off-duty officers are armed and have arrest powers.
Hopkins’ 1,100 officers include 232 unarmed security officers, 63 unarmed “special police officers,” who have limited arrest powers, and another 812 unarmed contract security officers.
By comparison, an August 2018 staffing study by the independent Police Foundation shows that the number of sworn officers funded in the Baltimore Police Department is roughly 2,600, with 1,100 of them ideally assigned to work in patrol – numbers that are far higher than the actual number of sworn officers in the agency and on the street.
One of the larger concerns mentioned in the report by Hopkins officials is the threat of an “active shooter” on one of the three campuses, a threat for which the university and Baltimore Police officers now regularly train. The report does, however, include the caveat that city officers “do not have the same intimate knowledge of our campuses – and how to traverse [them] quickly – as would our own officers.”
Citing statistics in the staffing study of the Baltimore Police Department, the Hopkins report states that city police take on average 15.9 minutes to respond to high-priority emergency calls for service. As most university security officers are now unable to intervene in crimes in progress and must call 911 for city police officers to respond instead, the status quo is “untenable and indefensible,” the report states.
“We would … continue to need to wait for the BPD to arrive to help us in an active shooter situation on or near one of our campuses, since the security personnel under our direct supervision are not equipped to use force, if necessary, to stop active shooters,” the report states. “In situations where timing matters, not having people on staff and on campus who can respond immediately could have devastating consequences.”
If approved by the legislature, sworn, uniformed officers of the Johns Hopkins Police Department would be authorized to carry guns and make arrests both on and off campus, in the areas immediately adjacent to the institutions.
In the fall, Hopkins sponsored three public panel discussions with national and local policing experts, who addressed the state of university policing, constitutional policing and police accountability, and ways to address the root causes of crime. University officials also held two public forums where they were available for questions and comment about the proposal.
Additionally, Hopkins officials met with representatives of more than 60 community organizations and student, faculty and staff groups, all of which are listed in the report’s appendices. They also met with members of the Baltimore City Council and the city’s delegation to the General Assembly.
During the sessions, some community members and students expressed a general distrust of police, based on their past experiences, and raised concerns about Hopkins affiliating with the Baltimore Police Department, which has been wracked by corruption and scandal and is under a federal consent decree that mandates sweeping reforms.
At the same time, the report states, “neighbors, employees and students are deeply concerned about their safety and the unacceptable levels of violence in this city.”
The university makes clear in the report that training, transparency, and civilian oversight would be needed by a Johns Hopkins Police Department “to help prevent racial profiling, excessive force and other abuses of police power.”
Hopkins’ proposal in the last legislative session 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 – and ultimately pleading guilty to – failing to file federal income tax returns.
This year, Hopkins got a boost in its efforts last month, when state Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) gave the plan his blessing and pledged to work for its passage.
If the General Assembly approves the Hopkins measure, the university would then have to hammer out a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Pugh and Baltimore City government detailing particulars of the arrangement.
To view the Hopkins study and appendices, click here.