JHU po­lice bill is iffy

Sup­port from city del­e­ga­tion re­mains un­com­mit­ted

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Luke Broad­wa­ter

The lob­by­ing ef­fort to au­tho­rize an armed po­lice force at the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity has won over friends in high places: Mary­land’s gov­er­nor. The Se­nate pres­i­dent. The mayor of Bal­ti­more. Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings. And bil­lion­aire Michael Bloomberg.

But to get its po­lice force, the univer­sity needs to aim a lit­tle lower: at the 22 Mary­land del­e­gates and sen­a­tors who make up Bal­ti­more’s Gen­eral Assem­bly del­e­ga­tion. And they are far from sold.

In in­ter­views this week with The Bal­ti­more Sun, a ma­jor­ity of the city leg­is­la­tors — whose sup­port is crit­i­cal to pass­ing leg­is­la­tion that would al­low the force — said they are un­de­cided about how they’ll vote. Sev­eral ar­gued that the univer­sity has much more work to do to earn their sup­port. Even the lead spon­sors of the Hop­kins leg­is­la­tion say they’re not com­mit­ted to vot­ing for it.

“We must re­sist this path that is pro­posed by JHU,” Sen. Mary Wash­ing­ton of North Bal­ti­more, a vo­cal critic of the pro­posal, wrote in a post that ral­lied op­po­si­tion this week on Face­book. Like all the city’s leg­is­la­tors, she’s a Demo­crat.

A year af­ter fierce com­mu­nity op­po­si­tion caused Hop­kins to fail in its ini­tial ef­fort to cre­ate its own po­lice force, the univer­sity is try­ing again — and pulling out all the stops. For months, Hop­kins has held fo­rums and “com­mu­nity con­ver­sa­tions” to try to win pub­lic sup­port — more than 125 meet­ings in

all. It has pitched the idea to neigh­bor­hood as­so­ci­a­tions across the city and set up a de­tailed web­site about the pro­posal. It has eight lob­by­ists work­ing in An­napo­lis.

The univer­sity has pro­posed not one or two, but three over­sight boards for its planned po­lice depart­ment. And, re­spond­ing to a com­mon ob­jec­tion that the plan doesn’t ad­dress the root causes of crime, the leg­is­la­tion would re­quire mil­lions in new state money for youth pro­gram­ming.

Hop­kins Pres­i­dent Ron Daniels has per­son­ally pushed the plan, march­ing door-to-door in East Bal­ti­more, clip­board in hand, to hear how res­i­dents feel about the univer­sity’s pro­posal.

“JHU has done a much, much bet­ter job this year at out­reach and trans­parency,” said Del. Mag­gie McIn­tosh, who rep­re­sents neigh­bor­hoods near the Home­wood cam­pus and chairs the pow­er­ful Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee. McIn­tosh said she’s un­sure how she’ll vote. “I’m still wait­ing to see what my com­mu­ni­ties want. My neigh­bor­hood board voted unan­i­mously in fa­vor. I am wait­ing to get feed­back from oth­ers.”

In their meet­ings with com­mu­nity as­so­ci­a­tions, Hop­kins of­fi­cials have said they learned a les­son last spring about the need to reach out to res­i­dents. Daniels has ac­knowl­edged mis­steps in the way the in­sti­tu­tion ini­tially pur­sued the idea. “We were deal­ing with a steep in­crease in vi­o­lent crime and at­tempted to re­spond im­me­di­ately,” said Rianna Matthews-Brown, Hop­kins’ di­rec­tor of univer­sity ini­tia­tives. “We’ve tried to ad­dress and re­spond to what we’ve heard.”

Anne Perkins, a co-pres­i­dent of the Tus­cany-Can­ter­bury Neigh­bor­hood As­so­ci­a­tion, said her or­ga­ni­za­tion voted unan­i­mously to back the bill af­ter hear­ing from Hop­kins of­fi­cials. Perkins said Hop­kins rep­re­sen­ta­tives met with the group re­peat­edly and ad­dressed their con­cerns. “Hop­kins was able to an­swer ev­ery ques­tion we had,” said Perkins, a for­mer state del­e­gate who lives near the univer­sity’s main cam­pus. “We were per­suaded that it’s dif­fi­cult for the Bal­ti­more city po­lice to cover the Home­wood cam­pus in a way that pro­vides an ad­e­quate level of safety.”

On Fri­day, the ef­fort gained an­other pow­er­ful ally with Cum­mings — one of the state’s most prom­i­nent politi­cians — en­dors­ing the plan. “I sup­port the bill in the Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly that would grant Johns Hop­kins the author­ity to es­tab­lish a small and ac­count­able po­lice force on their cam­pus,” Cum­mings said in a state­ment.

But oth­ers haven’t been as re­cep­tive. The Abell Im­prove­ment As­so­ci­a­tion voted 400-3 to op­pose a Hop­kins po­lice force af­ter tak­ing a sur­vey of neigh­bor­hood res­i­dents. The Greater Rem­ing­ton Im­prove­ment As­so­ci­a­tion also voted to op­pose the plan.

Re­sponses to the Abell group’s sur­vey in­cluded com­ments like this: “I don’t believe more guns is the an­swer to the in­creas­ing vi­o­lence in our city and I am greatly con­cerned about the ac­count­abil­ity of a pri­vate force.”

Bon­nie Bes­sor, the as­so­ci­a­tion’s trea­surer, said most re­sponses sounded sim­i­lar themes. “Polic­ing is a pub­lic ser­vice,” Bes­sor said, sum­ming up many sur­vey re­sponses, “and it’s not some­thing Hop­kins should be med­dling in.”

That view is shared by 15 stu­dent groups at Hop­kins who have bonded to­gether un­der the name Stu­dents Against Pri­vate Po­lice. They re­leased a state­ment Fri­day to “reaf­firm our stance against any at­tempts to pri­va­tize polic­ing and for com­mu­ni­ty­based ini­tia­tives re­gard­ing pub­lic health and safety.”

“The im­plicit bi­ases that lead to in­stances of es­ca­la­tion, of bru­tal­ity, and of racial pro­fil­ing can­not be un­done by mere train­ing or in­sub­stan­tial poli­cies,” the stu­dents wrote.

The stu­dents have planned a rally against the leg­is­la­tion on Wed­nes­day at Hop­kins’ Home­wood cam­pus.

At is­sue is Hop­kins’ plan to covert its cur­rent se­cu­rity force into a po­lice depart­ment with roughly 100 of­fi­cers. The univer­sity em­ploys a pri­vate se­cu­rity force of roughly 1,000 peo­ple to mon­i­tor its Home­wood cam­pus in North Bal­ti­more and the med­i­cal cam­pus that sur­rounds Johns Hop­kins Hos­pi­tal in East Bal­ti­more. The po­lice force would re­place a group of off-duty Bal­ti­more po­lice of­fi­cers and sher­iff’s deputies that Hop­kins cur­rently pays to patrol near the cam­pus.

Mary­land law al­lows pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions to op­er­ate po­lice de­part­ments, in­clud­ing Mor­gan State Univer­sity, Cop­pin State Univer­sity and the Univer­sity of Bal­ti­more.

Hop­kins says its force is badly needed as Bal­ti­more ex­pe­ri­ences a large in­crease in vi­o­lent crime while suf­fer­ing from more than 300 homicides a year for four con­sec­u­tive years. From 2014 through 2017, ag­gra­vated as­saults, in­clud­ing non-fa­tal shoot­ings, have more than tripled across all Johns Hop­kins Bal­ti­more cam­puses, ac­cord­ing to the univer­sity. Rob­beries, in­clud­ing armed rob­beries and car­jack­ings, in­creased by 250 per­cent, the school said. There were 45 ag­gra­vated as­saults in 2017, the univer­sity said, and 28 rob­beries.

While most of the city’s law­mak­ers say they’re un­de­cided on the bill, Del. Curt An­der­son is speak­ing out in fa­vor. “The com­mu­nity as­so­ci­a­tions near­est the Hop­kins cam­pus are in fa­vor of this,” An­der­son said. “I am out there in front in fa­vor of the Hop­kins po­lice force ... new po­lice of­fi­cers, how could that be a bad thing?”

Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pul­liam, who rep­re­sents por­tions of West Bal­ti­more, agreed, cit­ing the city’s high crime rate. “Any­thing that’s go­ing to help Bal­ti­more City with the amount of crime we have, to me that’s an­other set of eyes and an­other set of trained po­lice of­fi­cers,” she said. “I don’t know what I’ll do 100 per­cent, but right now I’m lean­ing to­wards that.”

While adding more po­lice in a city that strug­gles with crime might seem like a no-brainer to some, law­mak­ers fa­mil­iar with the his­tory of Hop­kins’ re­la­tion­ship with Bal­ti­more com­mu­ni­ties say there’s a long-fes­ter­ing lack of trust. For decades, res­i­dents of the poor neigh­bor­hoods sur­round­ing Johns Hop­kins Hos­pi­tal have had an un­easy re­la­tion­ship with the bil­lion­dol­lar in­sti­tu­tion. Fa­mously, the fam­ily of Hen­ri­etta Lacks is seek­ing com­pen­sa­tion from Hop­kins for the unau­tho­rized use of her cells in re­search that led to decades of med­i­cal ad­vances. Res­i­dents near the Home­wood cam­pus suc­cess­fully fought a univer­sity plan to bring in a new su­per­mar­ket, which the neigh­bor­hood ar­gued would hurt a long­time lo­cal gro­cer.

Mean­while, many Bal­ti­more res­i­dents are gen­er­ally dis­trust­ful of law en­force­ment af­ter an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment found the Bal­ti­more Po­lice Depart­ment en­gaged in a pat­tern of dis­crim­i­na­tory polic­ing, par­tic­u­larly in poor, pre­dom­i­nantly black neigh­bor­hoods.

State Sen. Bill Fer­gu­son of South­east Bal­ti­more, who’s seek­ing an ethics opin­ion on whether he can vote on the Hop­kins bill be­cause he works at the in­sti­tu­tion, says he’s un­sure whether the leg­is­la­tion will pass. “The chal­lenge is it’s be­come a proxy fight,” Fer­gu­son said, be­tween peo­ple who think the an­swer to the city’s vi­o­lence is more po­lice and those who fa­vor long-term so­lu­tions to poverty.

In an ef­fort to ad­dress both views, the Hop­kins po­lice bill — called the Com­mu­nity Safety and Strength­en­ing Act — re­quires the state to pro­vide $3.5 mil­lion for city youth pro­grams and an­other $1 mil­lion for YouthWorks sum­mer jobs. It also calls for the Hop­kins po­lice force to es­tab­lish at least one Po­lice Ath­letic League cen­ter.

The bill leg­is­la­tion says the force can op­er­ate on any prop­erty that is “owned, leased or op­er­ated” by Johns Hop­kins, its hos­pi­tal or the Pe­abody In­sti­tute. The leg­is­la­tion also says Hop­kins po­lice may patrol prop­erty ad­ja­cent to the cam­puses, in­clud­ing side­walks, streets and park­ing garages. The univer­sity’s po­lice depart­ment would have to adopt train­ing stan­dards from the Mary­land State Po­lice.

The new po­lice force for the pri­vate univer­sity would be mon­i­tored by two new over­sight boards — along with the city’s ex­ist­ing Civil­ian Re­view Board, which fields con­stituents’ com­plaints against po­lice.

There would be a 15-mem­ber “ac­count­abil­ity board” com­pris­ing stu­dents, staff, fac­ulty and res­i­dents of nearby neigh­bor­hoods. Hop­kins lead­er­ship would ap­point a ma­jor­ity of the board’s mem­bers, but the mayor and city coun­cil pres­i­dent would each ap­point a mem­ber. The board would meet quar­terly and hold at least one pub­lic meet­ing a year. Hop­kins also would cre­ate a hear­ing board to over­see the dis­ci­pline of of­fi­cers.

Sen. Cory V. McCray of East Bal­ti­more says he still has se­ri­ous con­cerns about the bill. He ar­gues that it has weak lim­its on where Hop­kins can po­lice in the city, lacks lo­cal hir­ing re­quire­ments and al­lows the univer­sity to ap­point too many mem­bers to its over­sight board. “You can’t have Hop­kins po­lice over­see­ing them­selves,” McCray said. “You can’t have folks who come from ru­ral ju­ris­dic­tions that have never been in ur­ban ju­ris­dic­tions polic­ing Bal­ti­more. I feel very strongly and very adamantly about it.” McCray called ad­dress­ing his ob­jec­tions “non-ne­go­tiable.”

Wash­ing­ton said she un­der­stands that Hop­kins is con­cerned about crime in Bal­ti­more. But, she said, law­mak­ers must con­sider the pos­si­ble con­se­quences of grant­ing “a sin­gle, pow­er­ful, well-funded, in­sti­tu­tional pri­vate ac­tor the same pow­ers af­forded lo­cal gov­ern­ments, coun­ties and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.”

Sen. Jill P. Carter of West Bal­ti­more also has deep reser­va­tions about the bill. “I have con­cerns about pri­vate po­lice au­tho­rized to po­lice in­di­vid­u­als and com­mu­ni­ties be­yond the bound­aries of the Hop­kins cam­pus,” Carter said. “At­tend­ing Hop­kins Univer­sity is largely unattain­able for the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of Bal­ti­more res­i­dents — the same res­i­dents that strug­gle with the dual fear of unchecked vi­o­lence and abuse by both other in­di­vid­u­als and law en­force­ment of­fi­cers.”

Wash­ing­ton has pro­posed com­pro­mise leg­is­la­tion to al­low Hop­kins to form a po­lice force through a method she views as more ac­count­able to the pub­lic. Her plan would al­low pri­vate col­leges — not just Johns Hop­kins — to have po­lice forces that would be an ex­ten­sion of the Univer­sity Sys­tem of Mary­land’s ex­ist­ing po­lice forces.

But Bloomberg, the bil­lion­aire for­mer mayor of New York and bene­fac­tor of the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity who is con­sid­er­ing a pres­i­den­tial run, said last month that it’s “ridicu­lous” the in­sti­tu­tion doesn’t have an armed po­lice force. He said par­ents de­cid­ing where to send their chil­dren to col­lege are voic­ing con­cerns.


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.