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

Johns Hopkins University is set to get its controversial police force, following today’s vote of approval in the Maryland House of Delegates for Senate Bill 793.

The 94-42 tally came after protests in the House chambers from Hopkins students who oppose plans for their university to establish its own armed police department with up to 100 officers. The vote also followed several failed attempts by Del. Nick Mosby to amend the bill with additional concessions from the school, including to exempt officers from the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. “This bill is extremely short sighted,” the 40th District delegate said on the floor.

Students Against Private Police, whose members interrupted debate on the House floor with chants of “No private police!”, said in a statement ahead of the vote that the legislation “privatizes policing as an essential public good, it adds more police to an already over-policed city, the bill is confusing and vague in its actual execution, and will do nothing to address Baltimore’s real public safety needs.”

The group also noted a number of community associations (though not all), student and faculty groups and various neighbors have opposed creating an independent police force for the private university.

But ultimately, the bill passed today, with Del. Cheryl Glenn and others arguing there’s a clear need for an increased police presence for Baltimore as it grapples with violent crime. Hopkins has said it needs its own uniformed officers to deal with a rash of incidents on and around campus. The university has also argued that it should get to have its own police department because other top private colleges do, too.

Unlike other universities in Maryland with their own police departments, such as Morgan State, Coppin State and the University of Maryland, Hopkins is a private institution and thus needed legislation to carve out an exception for the school.

After failing to get the backing of city lawmakers last year—when a bill was introduced midway through the session, to students’ and neighbors’ surprise—this year the university managed to secure the support of Baltimore’s House and Senate delegations, clearing the path for the legislation’s approval. The Senate had already passed Senate Bill 794 on March 14 in a 43-2 vote, sending the hotly debated legislation to the House. (Former Hopkins News-Letter editor-in-chief Rollin Hu thoroughly detailed the legislation’s history for the Baltimore Beat.)

For those keeping score, it was Dels. Mosby, Melissa Wells, Regina Boyce, Stephanie Smith and Robbyn Lewis who voted against the bill in the House, while the rest of the 16-member delegation (save for Del. Tony Bridges, who was absent) approved the bill. In the Senate earlier this month, only Sens. Jill Carter and Mary Washington voted against the legislation.

House passed SB793 giving @JohnsHopkins a police force. I and my colleagues voted no. The @CityofBaltimore has solutions to OUR crime: a public health approach that builds community trust and coordinates best practices and services that support our residents.#MDGA19 #Working4MD

— Delegate Regina T. Boyce (@reginatboyce) March 28, 2019

On social media, Baltimore grassroots think-tank Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle said the vote “sets a terrible precedent for large, private institutions to over-police Black communities.

“Take note of where your representatives stand in times like these.”

Lawmakers have amended it since the beginning of the session to include provisions limiting the areas where police are allowed to patrol to campus (without approval from surrounding community associations, that is), grandfather the department into the scope of the Maryland Public Information Act and require that 25 percent of the force lives in the city.

In committee last week, the House Judiciary Committee also added requirements for Hopkins police officers to receive training on legal searches and keep their body cameras turned on, restricted the future Hopkins Police Department from purchasing surplus military equipment and mandated that a member of the school’s Black Faculty and Staff Association serve on an the school’s future accountability board for its police department.

Lawmakers will still need to call a conference committee to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation before it heads to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk. The governor has already said he supports the ability for the school to get its own police department, and plans to sign the bill into law.

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Ethan McLeod

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...