By Annette Arceneaux
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
A state delegate from Baltimore announced on Twitter Friday morning that legislative leaders in Annapolis have halted the progress of a bill that would have allowed Johns Hopkins University to form its own armed police force.
State Del. Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore, who chairs the city’s legislative caucus, said the General Assembly’s decision to stop the bill was in response to the concerns of JHU students as well as members of the community who live around the university, many of whom opposed the proposal.
“After listening to the concerns of Johns Hopkins students and community folk we have halted the legislative deliberations on their police bill,” Anderson tweeted.
The announcement was met with praise on Twitter from several of Anderson’s constituents, who said the decision was the right one. But others complained that Anderson introduced the bill without really thinking through its details.
“There’s been an unfortunate pattern of Curt Anderson … introducing flawed bills as a courtesy and not figuring out till later that there is no community supported,” tweeted David Pontious, a Baltimore resident who tweets about politics.
JHU President Ronald J. Daniels and the school’s CEO of medicine, Paul Rothman, released a statement Friday saying the school will continue studying its options and hopes to push for a private police force again in the future.
“We and the state legislature have decided that legislation to establish a university police department at Johns Hopkins requires further consideration and should be moved to an interim study rather than acted upon this year,” Daniels and Rothman said in the statement. “We believe this decision will help inform our response to rising crime and other security threats and allow us to continue important conversations about building a sworn police force that models the best in constitutional, community-based policing.”
The Assembly bill would have authorized Johns Hopkins University to create a private police force to supplement its existing 58 unarmed security officers. The armed officers would have patrolled the school’s Homewood, East Baltimore and Peabody campuses and would have worked closely with Baltimore City police. Daniels argued that the university needed the extra security because of an increase in crime around the campus.
The bill, which was introduced on March 5, immediately raised the eyebrows of JHU students.
They said a private police force on campus could increase surveillance of students and the number of weapons on campus. The students said they were also concerned that a private police force would increase incidents in which African Americans on campus were unfairly targeted by police through racial profiling.
In addition, opponents complained that the university had not sufficiently discussed the proposal with the community before making the proposal, and they expressed skepticism of the university forming a partnership with a city police department that has faced a number of scandals and a poor relationship with minority neighborhoods over the years.
“I think that if [the administration] really cared about those concerns, I don’t think they would have established a bill for a privatized police force,” said Alizay Jalisi, a member of Students Against Private Police at JHU. “Especially because they never got any student support about pushing this bill.”
Students Against Private Police at JHU said it was happy with the Legislature’s decision, but they urged their supporters to stay vigilant because the university has not given up on the idea of creating a private police force.
“Thank you to everyone who has supported us,” the group said on its Facebook page. “The fight is not over yet. We will continue moving forward, until we know that a JHU private police force will not become a reality.”
The bill was supported by Mayor Catherine Pugh and Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa.
While public universities like Morgan State and Coppin State have their own police department, state law prohibits private institutions from creating their own law enforcement departments. The bill would have changed that law and JHU would have become the first private university to have its own force in Maryland.
On March 5, the day the bill was read by the House of Delegates, the JHU administration sent an email to students saying it supported the bill as a response to several shootings that had occurred near campus in the past year.
That evening, students and their supporters created Students Against Private Police” and began circulating a petition to oppose the measure. Within 48 hours of the petition’s creation, the group gathered about 1,000 student signatures. As of March 29, the petition had 2,300 signatures, the group said.
In other opposition efforts, the Student Government Association held an open dialogue forum on March 13 with the administrators. Jailsi said that the administrators didn’t think that student input would change anything and that the bill was now in the hands of the legislators.
“We know that transparency and accountability will be vital to assuring our community that we are meeting their expectations,” said Dennis O’Shea, a spokesman for Johns Hopkins University. “These proposed amendments reflect our commitment to a meaningful partnership between the police department and the community and individuals it serves.”
Nine members of the Students Against Private Police spoke in opposition to the bill at a hearing in Annapolis on March 20. Students also met state Del. Jazz M. Lewis, D-Prince George’s County, and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, who assured them at the time that the bill was unlikely to pass because JHU had not provided sufficient data to support its argument.
“There are a number of questions to be asked about the bill,” said Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore. “Is it only for the Hopkins campus that sits right off of Charles Street or is also for the Hamden campus? We don’t know which campuses.”
Conway said that bill must be amended and vetted after the university holds town hall meetings for nearby neighborhood associations and allows students to give their input.
Daniels sent a letter to community leaders saying the bill still needed finessing and that the university plans to work through the summer with City Council member Mary Pat Clarke on the matter.
“The creation of a sworn police force is a serious decision and entails significant public responsibility, and it is important that our communities have the opportunity to gain the necessary confidence in this endeavor,” Daniels said in a statement that was provided to the Baltimore Watchdog by Clarke.
“A halt in deliberation on the bill does not mean it is dead forever,” Jalisi said. “We need to strategize long-term to ideally ensure that Hopkins never has a private police force and that we as a university, find other community-based solutions to our safety concerns instead.”