Let Mor­gan ex­pand po­lice force

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD -

It’s not yet clear whether Mor­gan will face the same de­gree of skep­ti­cism for its plans that Hop­kins did — af­ter all, it al­ready has a po­lice force and is a pub­lic in­sti­tu­tion rather than a pri­vate one — but the school shouldn’t wait around to find out.

When Mor­gan State Univer­sity Pres­i­dent David Wil­son vis­ited The Sun’s ed­i­to­rial board this week, the phrase on his lips was “Mor­gan mo­men­tum.” He had a great story to tell. En­roll­ment is in­creas­ing at a time when it is flat or de­clin­ing at most other Mary­land pub­lic univer­si­ties. The per­cent­age of stu­dents who re­turn af­ter their fresh­man year is up, and the grad­u­a­tion rate is sky­rock­et­ing. Stu­dents are start­ing busi­nesses, study­ing abroad and in­tern­ing in Sil­i­con Val­ley. Fac­ulty re­search pro­duc­tiv­ity is up, and the cam­pus is un­der­go­ing a build­ing boom.

That’s not just good for Mor­gan, it’s good for the en­tire state. Mor­gan ed­u­cates a large share of stu­dents who are the first in their fam­i­lies to go to college, and its suc­cess is cru­cial to fos­ter­ing so­cial mo­bil­ity and equal op­por­tu­nity and to pro­duc­ing the highly ed­u­cated work­force that is cru­cial to Mary­land’s eco­nomic com­pet­i­tive­ness. What’s more, its iden­tity as a pub­lic ur­ban re­search univer­sity means its fac­ulty is fo­cused on solv­ing prob­lems faced by cities like Bal­ti­more, from health dis­par­i­ties to poor trans­porta­tion net­works. We need to keep Mor­gan’s mo­men­tum go­ing.

What could de­rail it is the threat of crime, real or per­ceived, on and around cam­pus. Two Mor­gan State stu­dents were killed near cam­pus in the last six months. In April, Kevon Dix, a 21-year-old Bal­ti­more na­tive who was a tenor in Mor­gan’s choir, was shot and killed on his way home from a friend’s house where he had been do­ing home­work. Then in July, Manuel Luis Jr., a 19-year-old busi­ness ma­jor who friends de­scribed as the light in any sit­u­a­tion, was fa­tally shot dur­ing an at­tempted rob­bery near the Mor­gan View Apart­ments. Two other stu­dents were fa­tally stabbed near cam­pus three years ago.

The univer­sity has taken sev­eral steps on its own to in­crease se­cu­rity, in­clud­ing hir­ing un­armed guards, work­ing with the city on im­prov­ing street light­ing and in­creas­ing the fre­quency of shut­tles be­tween cam­pus and sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hoods. Mor­gan’s re­gents this month fast-tracked the con­struc­tion of new cam­pus hous­ing, and the off-cam­pus, pri­vate Mor­gan View Apart­ments, whose res­i­dents are al­most en­tirely if not ex­clu­sively Mor­gan stu­dents, has been a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus of at­ten­tion for the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

But the most mean­ing­ful thing Mor­gan could do to in­crease the safety of its stu­dents, fac­ulty and staff would be to up­grade its po­lice force.

Mr. Wil­son wants to do that, bring­ing it from about 40 of­fi­cers to about 60, and to ex­pand its ju­ris­dic­tion to cover not just univer­sity prop­erty but lim­ited ar­eas around cam­pus. For that, he needs fund­ing (about $2 mil­lion a year) and ap­proval from the Gen­eral As­sem­bly.

The pro­posal comes on the heels of a two-year ef­fort by Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity to get state ap­proval to cre­ate its own po­lice force, which only suc­ceeded af­ter an in­ten­sive out­reach ef­fort by the school to com­mu­ni­ties sur­round­ing the cam­pus, a strong lob­by­ing push in An­napo­lis and an agree­ment to ex­ten­sive trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity mea­sures. Even then, it barely got the ap­proval of the city’s state Se­nate del­e­ga­tion.

It’s not yet clear whether Mor­gan will face the same de­gree of skep­ti­cism for its plans that Hop­kins did — af­ter all, it al­ready has a po­lice force and is a pub­lic in­sti­tu­tion rather than a pri­vate one — but the school shouldn’t wait around to find out. It should im­me­di­ately be­gin an open di­a­logue with stake­hold­ers on and off cam­pus (Bal­ti­more­ans United in Lead­er­ship Devel­op­ment helped Hop­kins with that), and it should adopt the same kinds of com­mu­nity safe­guards that Hop­kins agreed to.

Mr. Wil­son says he is will­ing to do all of that. Pro­vided he does, we hope Gov. Larry Ho­gan and the leg­is­la­ture will pro­vide the fund­ing and author­ity the school needs to ex­pand its po­lice force. Mor­gan’s mo­men­tum is too im­por­tant to squan­der.

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