Tim Curtis//Daily Record Business Reporter//March 20, 2018
//Daily Record Business Reporter
//March 20, 2018
Members of a Maryland House of Delegates committee Tuesday skeptically questioned Johns Hopkins University leaders about their plan to establish a private police department.
Hopkins wants to create the police department as a response to rising crime around its university and medical campuses, but some legislators on the Judiciary Committee wondered whether it was appropriate to allow a private body police privileges.
“How do you decide to start giving a private entity the full powers of policing in Maryland, and where do you draw the line?” Del. David Moon, D-Montgomery, asked.
Johns Hopkins already spends about $50 million and employs more than 1,000 security guards on and around its campuses, numbers that have increased over the past three years as crime in Baltimore has escalated.
But those increases have not helped to counteract crime on and around the university’s campuses, and perception and fear of crime has increased, a university official testified.
“We have witnessed a meaningful and to be quite honest, scary rise in crime around our communities,” said Daniel G. Ennis, senior vice president for finance and administration at Johns Hopkins. “(People are) very nervous about the threat of crime and even the perception of crime is very harmful to the well-being of our community.”
The legislation would authorize independent institutions of higher education to establish a police force with full police powers after entering into a memorandum of understanding with the Baltimore Police Department and the mayor. An amendment would limit the scope of the bill to just Johns Hopkins.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and police Commissioner Darryl D. De Sousa have expressed support for the legislation.
The university wants its police force to mirror police departments set up at other universities in the city like the University of Maryland, Baltimore, Coppin State University and Morgan State University. It also looked at models of private forces at the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Southern California.
Hopkins believes its police force would be more responsive to the needs of the campus, especially with the strained manpower of the city police. The police powers granted in the memorandum of understanding would likely extend beyond the physical campus to a patrol zone surrounding Hopkins’ properties.
That extension also happens at the other universities in the city with police forces.
But those universities are public, meaning their police forces are ultimately responsible to the people. Some legislators expressed concern that there may be a conflict between what police do and what university leadership wants.
“I think I would have a concern, too, that the ‘police chief’ is the vice president of the school,” said Del. Vanessa E. Atterbeary, D-Howard.
Other legislators worried that a police force could exacerbate issues that racial minorities experience already on Hopkins’ campus.
Del. Charles E. Sydnor III, D-Baltimore County, who is black, explained that during his own time attending Johns Hopkins University he was uncomfortable at times and felt that he was not a member of the Hopkins community. That feeling was especially pervasive after there was a murder on campus, he said.
“I recognize that creating the police department doesn’t change that as an issue that has to be addressed,” Ennis said. “The importance and intense focus on issues like this has to come from the top. And it does, and every day we work to be better.”
Sydnor and other delegates were also concerned about the process of the establishment of the force, particularly whether they would be granting approval before a memorandum of understanding with the city was reached. An alternative plan could be allowing the city council to approve a memorandum of understanding.
The legislation currently does not involve the Baltimore City Council. That body unanimously approved a resolution last week asking to be included in the process.C