Harrison backs plan for JHU police force if MOU gives oversight to the city

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Incoming Baltimore Police Commissioner and former New Orleans Police Chief Michael Harrison. Photo via NOPD/Twitter.

Acting Police Commissioner Michael Harrison feels a police force at Johns Hopkins University would help Baltimore, so long as a memorandum of understanding between the college and the city makes the school’s force accountable to local officials.

This information comes from an op-ed by Mayor Catherine Pugh published yesterday in The Afro. Matthew Jablow, chief of public information for the Baltimore Police Department, confirmed that Pugh’s characterization is an accurate representation of Harrison’s views.

Pugh writes that in New Orleans, where Harrison served as police superintendent for four years and oversaw sweeping reforms as part of a federal consent decree, all seven of the universities in the city limits–five private and two public–have armed police forces.

She agrees with him that it would help the city. “Because just like Morgan, the University of Baltimore, Coppin and the University of Maryland, we don’t have to patrol their campus grounds,” she writes.

Pugh says the memorandum of understanding would require a Hopkins police force to be in compliance with the same consent decree for Baltimore police. The department is being overseen by a federal judge and monitored by a third party following a 2016 Department of Justice report released after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody found that officers routinely violated the rights of citizens.

Additionally, Hopkins officers would have to be trained by the BPD, just like the police force at Coppin State University, she writes, as the department provides training in constitutional policing, community engagement and bias-free policing as part of the consent decree.

In her op-ed, Pugh paints a police force at one of the city’s largest institutions as part of a larger plan to reduce violence.

“A Hopkins police team with city oversight can work for everybody,” she writes.

Previously, Harrison has been non-committal when asked about the prospect of a police force at Hopkins. As The Sun reported on Feb. 15 in a story about one of his meet-and-greets with the community, Harrison punted when asked about the proposal, saying it was up to the legislature, but that we would work on coordination between the university and the city if the bill passed.

He would have cause for trepidation. Just last year, the chief of police and other top brass at the Tulane University Police Department in New Orleans resigned after an investigation from the CBS affiliate found the department tried to cover up incidents in which officers used excessive force.

The school has an arrangement with the New Orleans Police Department to respond to calls from within a one-mile perimeter around the campus, and, per the CBS affiliate, the university police saw this agreement “as a standing order to patrol neighborhoods close to campus.”

The network found two instances where officers aggressively arrested men not affiliated with the university. In the first, an officer threw a man to the ground, only to learn he was the victim of an assault. And in another, four officers confronted a man in a university hospital who was in the midst of a domestic dispute. The man was handcuffed when one officer grabbed the man by the throat for five seconds. Immediately after, the man sat down in a chair and challenged an officer to shoot him with their Taser, which they did.

In both cases, review panels looked at the cases and ruled the officers had acted improperly, but then-Superintendent Joey Bishop asked them to change those findings.

One of the monitors of the consent decree in New Orleans last year told Tulane’s student newspaper that the university police force is in a bit of gray area.

“TUPD is not mentioned in the NOPD’s consent decree,” Susan Hutson said. “However, paragraph 490 of the consent decree could be interpreted to mean that the City is required to ensure that when it agrees to get supplemental policing from other agencies such as TUPD, that the City also ensures that these other agencies follow the tenets of the consent decree.”

Brandon Weigel

Brandon Weigel is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he has been published in The Washington Post, The Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Urbanite, The Baltimore Business Journal, b and others. Prior to joining Baltimore Fishbowl, he was an editor at City Paper from 2012 to 2017. He can be reached at [email protected]
Brandon Weigel

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