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Md. legislative approval not the end of Hopkins police debate

Monya McCombs, a senior security system specialist with Johns Hopkins University's Campus Safety and Security Department, monitors security cameras surrounding the university's Homewood campus in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Monya McCombs, a senior security system specialist with Johns Hopkins University’s Campus Safety and Security Department, monitors security cameras surrounding the university’s Homewood campus in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The passage of legislation Monday night to allow Johns Hopkins University to create its own police department marked the end of one portion of a year-long debate, but much of the discussion will continue as the university begins building its new force.

The bill will allow the university to create a 100-member police force after it enters into a memorandum of understanding with the Baltimore Police Department.

“Significant effort has gone into getting us to this point, but our work is just beginning,” the university said in a statement. “There are many steps to come in the process of building a Johns Hopkins Police Department (JHPD), and we will provide regular updates about the process and opportunities for communities to be involved in this work.”

If Gov. Larry Hogan signs the legislation, and his office has indicated he favors it, it would take effect July 1.

Implementing the new police force is expected to take several years. First, the university must negotiate its memorandum of understanding with the city police department.

Part of that process will include two public meetings and a 30-day review period by the city council. The final memorandum will be posted publicly.

The university will also begin looking for members to serve on the Johns Hopkins Police Accountability Board, one of several bodies that will have some oversight responsibility for the new department. Members of the board must be confirmed by the state Senate.

The university has said it needs a police department because of continued high levels of crime in Baltimore, especially near its main campus and its medical campus.

In testimony when the legislation was heard in February, Johns Hopkins Hospital President Redonda Miller said some employees feel unsafe walking home or to their cars.

University leaders also said it was important to have a police force intimately familiar with the campus as incidents of active shooters rise. Knowing a campus layout could save critical minutes when responding to reports of an active shooter, the leaders said.

Some of the many amendments to the legislation limit the proposed Johns Hopkins Police Department to the university’s Homewood campus, the east Baltimore medical campus and the Peabody Institute north of downtown. Another amendment would allow the police department to patrol adjacent neighborhoods with the support of the community.

The university will use the implementation period to begin identifying these neighborhoods that may want Johns Hopkins police patrols.

Police officers will also be required to wear body cameras and the department will be subject to Public Information Act requests.

The legislation the Senate passed Monday night is a long way from the bill that was rejected last year. After significant opposition, the legislature urged the university to spend time before this year’s session building support within its communities.

The university hosted a discussion series on policing and held some community forums. University leadership also met with hundreds of student, faculty and community groups.

Their efforts generated support, especially from some community groups who also worry about rising crime rates.

Jack K. Boyson, president of the Wyman Park Community Association, a neighborhood that borders the university campus, wanted the police force.

“We welcome JHU’s efforts to enhance public safety in the greater Homewood Campus area through the establishment of its own police force,” he said. “And we thank the Maryland Legislature for passing the bill to authorize the formation of this police department.”

BUILD Baltimore, a community organization in the city, also supported the legislation but the group’s leaders also said they would be keeping an eye on the new police force.

But Hopkins could not bring everyone on board. More than 100 faculty members signed a letter opposing its creation.

Sen. Mary Washington, a Democrat, represents a district that includes the Homewood campus. She voted against the legislation Monday over concerns about private institutions having a police force.

“I do fundamentally believe that policing should be a publicly controlled entity and that privatization is not the way to go,” Washington told The Associated Press.

A student group, Students Against Private Police, vowed that the General Assembly’s approval would not be the end of its fight against the proposed police force.

“We haven’t finished inputting and participating, Johns Hopkins University,” the group wrote on Facebook. It has a rally planned Wednesday evening near campus.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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