As communities from coast to coast, including in Maryland, debate the role of police and policing, officials from Johns Hopkins University announced late Friday afternoon that they would pause plans to establish an armed police force on their campuses for at least two years.
“We want Johns Hopkins to be part of the conversation about what is possible for our city and country in rethinking the appropriate boundaries and responsibilities of policing, and to draw on the energies, expertise, and efforts of our community in advancing the agenda for consequential and enduring reform,” the university leaders wrote in a statement to students, faculty members, staff and the community. “And we want to be able to work now — with a sense of shared purpose and commitment, with our neighbors, and across our university community — to develop and model these alternative approaches.”
Johns Hopkins was granted the permission to set up its own police force during the 2019 General Assembly session following an emotional two-year debate that reverberated from Baltimore to Annapolis to Capitol Hill and among the university’s far-flung network of alumni and supporters.
Now, as national debate reaches a fevered pitch over how to make police departments less violent, less racist and more responsive to their communities, it is unclear if the goal of establishing a private police force for Hopkins will ever be realized.
The announcement attracted widespread commentary on social media.
“The power of the people is greater than the people in power!” said Joseph Kane, a Baltimore community activist who recently lost a City Council bid in the neighborhood surrounding the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus. “They never should’ve been given this authority in the first place.”
Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, was even more succinct: “Huge,” she wrote on Twitter.
Here is the full statement from Johns Hopkins officials:
Dear Faculty, Students, Staff, and Neighbors of Johns Hopkins:
As hundreds of thousands rise in protest here and across the nation, we share the continued anguish and anger at the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, and the unjust loss of so many other Black lives, in the long and grotesque history of systemic racism that has shaped this nation and its institutions.
This moment of national reckoning implicates all areas of our lives and the work we do together as a learned community. We recognize the ways in which systemic racism impacts unfairly our Black and Brown colleagues, neighbors, students, and staff. We know we must do more as an institution and as individuals to fully realize Johns Hopkins’ core commitment to justice, equity, and inclusion, and we are grateful for the many difficult and important conversations that are happening now and that will guide our efforts to listen, to support, and to act.
Today, we want to speak to the renewed questions and broad concerns about policing in America and the calls to reconsider our decision to create a university police department at Johns Hopkins.
We sought the legislative authorization to build this department because of the sustained surge in violent crime directly impacting our students, faculty, staff, and neighbors and because, in contrast to our public university peers in the city, we lacked a police department that could help protect them. In seeking this authorization, we embraced without reservation many of the reforms that are now being called for across the country and we hope that legislation can contribute to the wider discussion of the steps needed to realize lawful, nonracist, and publicly accountable sworn policing.
The legislation that was enacted responded in a detailed and comprehensive manner to many of the concerns that were raised about the need for training to address racial bias, excessive force, and de-escalation, and the requirement for increased transparency and accountability. These issues are now very much at the center of the public debate over what modern policing — however large or small its scope—must be in this country. Critically, the Johns Hopkins Police Department (JHPD) legislation explicitly enacted the best practices recommended by the national Task Force on 21st Century Policing and the Consent Decree that currently governs the Baltimore Police Department.
Throughout the process and again in recent weeks, we have been keenly aware of the range of principled and thoughtful perspectives on these issues, and we hear now the increasingly urgent calls for reconsideration of the way in which public safety in our community is achieved.
Many people see no role whatsoever for sworn policing in our country. Many others accept the necessity of some role for sworn policing but seek a fundamental and vigorous reimagination of how that role can be discharged equitably and integrated with other initiatives that ensure community safety.
We want Johns Hopkins to be part of the conversation about what is possible for our city and country in rethinking the appropriate boundaries and responsibilities of policing, and to draw on the energies, expertise, and efforts of our community in advancing the agenda for consequential and enduring reform. And we want to be able to work now — with a sense of shared purpose and commitment, with our neighbors, and across our university community — to develop and model these alternative approaches.
Given the need for us to come together as a community in this enterprise of reimagining public safety, we have decided to pause for at least the next two years the implementation of the JHPD.
Taking the immediate implementation of the JHPD off the table is important for several reasons:
- First, it will give us the opportunity to focus on the opening that we have now in the debate on public safety and to invest our energies in that endeavor, where we believe our leadership could be impactful. There are, in particular, many parts of our university that are international leaders in areas such as health disparities, mental health, and addiction, that could inform this debate, and we want to provide them the support to devise new models.
- Second, significant legislative efforts are being mounted at the local, state, and national levels to advance police reforms, including a reexamination of Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights. We want to benefit from these new norms and best practices and can take them into account as we consider the nature and scope of responsibilities for university policing. We can invest in alternative approaches to reduce to the greatest extent possible our reliance on policing.
- Third, the pause will allow us the time to improve our existing non-sworn campus safety and security operations through enhanced training, professional development, and oversight.
- Finally, it will provide us with time to work with city leadership, including a new mayor and our police commissioner, and understand fully the strategy for police reform, improved safety, and violence reduction that our city requires.
We hold with utmost seriousness our responsibility for the safety of our entire community, and in that spirit embrace the opportunity before us to allow that community — at Johns Hopkins, in our city, and well beyond — to lend its intellectual and moral leadership in pointing a way forward on an issue that has so deeply riven this country.
In partnership and gratitude,
Ronald J. Daniels President
Paul B. Rothman, M.D. Dean of the Medical Faculty CEO, Johns Hopkins Medicine
Kevin W. Sowers, M.S.N., R.N., F.A.A.N. President, Johns Hopkins Health System EVP, Johns Hopkins Medicine