Hopkins releases draft of police bill, and critics already have concerns

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Photo of Gilman Hall at Johns Hopkins University. Photo by callison-burch, via Flickr.

Johns Hopkins University today released a draft of the Maryland General Assembly bill that would give the college its own police force, with officers patrolling properties owned or leased by the school and the department answering to an accountability board made up of students, faculty, staff and residents of the neighborhoods surrounding the three main campuses.

According to the text of the bill, officers would have “primary responsibility” for theft, burglary and motor vehicle taking, all Category 1 offenses under the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program.

Hopkins officers would also have the authority to continue the pursuit of a suspect off of campus grounds, and to operate as normal police at the request of the city or, in a state of emergency, the governor.

“Members of the JHPD would qualify as police officers with the legal authority to make arrests, and the JHPD would be obligated to meet requirements that govern all state-authorized law enforcement agencies,” Hopkins officials wrote in a letter covering the proposal.

Critics of Hopkins getting its own police force have already raised concerns about the proposal. State Sen. Mary Washington, who has previously opposed the school’s efforts, told the Real News Network’s Jaisal Noor the bill does not address any of her earlier concerns.

There would not be enough accountability with the communities that Hopkins calls home, she said. “As proposed it amounts… to an (sic) private occupying force. It is a bad precedent.”

A campus group organizing against the bill, Student Against Private Police, has retweeted opponents of the measure, and pointed to remarks by ACLU Maryland that the civilian review board in Baltimore, which would have oversight of Hopkins police, is toothless, and to a study showing more exposure to guns leads to more deaths.

They also released a statement blasting the bill and saying the administration continues “to be vague, to avoid transparency, and to make the bare minimum of gestures towards the dialogue residents and students have been trying to engage them in.”

It goes on to say: “We want to emphasize then that the private nature of the police force means Johns Hopkins promises will have no enforcement mechanisms. Accountability fundamentally cannot happen in this situation. Instead the bill’s language of accountability ultimately relies on community trust in Hopkins, which time and again community members have said they do not have.”

Hopkins first pursued legislation to establish its own police force in March of last year, drawing support from then-State Sen. Joan Carter Conway, who sponsored the bill, and then-Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa. Several state universities in Baltimore, including Coppin State University and Morgan State University, already have their own police units.

About a month prior, Johns Hopkins hired away BPD Col. Melissa Hyatt to head up security.

But students moved swiftly to oppose the two bills, telling the Real News Network they first heard of the legislation in an email from President Ronald J. Daniels. Members of the city’s delegation in Annapolis soon tabled the legislation, saying the university did not do enough to gain community support.

The renewed proposal does have two significant backers in Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and billionaire Michael Bloomberg, a Hopkins alumnus who has recently gifted the college about $2 billion for various initiatives, including student aid and the purchase of the Newseum building in Washington D.C.

Hopkins says it has been more transparent this time around, issuing a timeline saying it held more than 125 community meetings last summer and fall, as well two open forums, and solicited public feedback as it tries to get the legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly a second time.

If it were to pass, the school plans to hold negotiations with the Baltimore Police Department on a memorandum of understanding, and would then hold two public forums before it is implemented.

The bill has other provisions that will keep the new department in line, Hopkins said in its letter, including an administrative hearing board for disciplining officers that will have “up to two voting members of the public, the maximum allowable under Maryland law.”

As for the accountability board, it would be made up of 15 members–including residents from the neighborhoods near the Homewood campus, Peabody Conservatory and East Baltimore medical campus–and hold at least one public meeting a year to allow the public to voice their issues, review data from police and give feedback to department leaders.

The school also pledges in the bill to “promote appropriate interactions” with minors, people with behavioral health issues or disabilities, and anyone “in crisis.” Officers would be trained in constitutional and community-oriented policing.

Under another provision, Hopkins would publish an annual report each October at the end of the fiscal year detailing crime and arrest data, complaints against officers and employment figures.

Brandon Weigel

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