New vice president for security outlines plans for campus policing

By JACOB TOOK | September 6, 2018

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COURTESY OF MELISSA HYATT

Vice President for Security Melissa Hyatt joined Hopkins last April.

Melissa Hyatt, a 20-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD), joined the University as the vice president for security in April. Her appointment followed an increase in security operations due to rising crime rates around the Homewood Campus, along with plans to create a private police force that University officials announced in March. 

After joining the BPD in 1997, Hyatt held positions including chief of patrol, chief of staff to the police commissioner and, most recently, head of the department’s Homeland Security and Training division. She graduated from Hopkins in 2009 with a Master of Science in Management.

In an interview with The News-Letter, Hyatt explained why she made the transition to Hopkins.

“I was fortunate enough to spend over 20 years serving the City,” she said. “An opportunity to continue to manage public safety in Baltimore City on a large footprint, while continuing to contribute to a city that I spent my entire adulthood helping to keep safe, was very appealing to me.”

Hyatt said that after years working across Baltimore, she was excited to focus on just the areas surrounding Hopkins campuses. Though recent discussions about security have focused mostly on Homewood, the East Baltimore campus and occasionally Peabody Institute, Hyatt oversees security at all of the University’s campuses except for the Applied Physics Lab.

According to Hyatt, she has transitioned into her new role by engaging with students and community members to learn their thoughts about security at Hopkins. She emphasized her experience speaking with people from different backgrounds from her work as a patrol officer. She said that some have spoken positively about security at Hopkins, while others have given her more feedback.

“Some of them have been recommendations, based on people’s experiences, with what they would like to see in their security,” she said. “For me, that’s a win, because that’s an opportunity for me to talk to people.”

Hyatt stated that her experience so far at Hopkins has been positive and that she has received a lot of support from faculty, students and staff. 

“It seems like people have just been waiting for somebody to ask them what their thoughts are on security, and they’re really eager to participate in the process, Hyatt said. “It’s really been incredibly positive.”

Hyatt discussed plans to create a student advisory board on security, which she would consult for project proposals and use to solicit feedback from other students about their experiences with Hopkins security operations. She said that any interested students would be able to apply for the advisory board.

Talking with students, Hyatt emphasized, is an important way for her to gain new perspectives on the issues she addresses.

“I recognize the fact that, after 20 years in law enforcement, sometimes I see things from my perspective, and it’s really important to get the other perspectives,” she said. “Particularly, with students — on the one hand they’re essentially our client in security. We’re there, we’re serving them, we’re keeping them safe. At the same time, we’re also part of their community.”

Hyatt also plans to pursue accreditation, though she did not state which specific organization the University would seek accreditation from. Accreditation is a process by which an independent organization continuously evaluates the policies, practices and procedures of a university’s security operations to ensure they meet a certain standard.

The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA), which accredits over 1,000 colleges, issues an accreditation standards manual of almost 100 pages. The IACLEA reviews professional standards, recruitment and selection, training, use of force, and many other aspects of security.

Hyatt stressed that consistently meeting these standards would reflect the quality and professionalism she expects from her security operations.

“In a city where there certainly is some mistrust of law enforcement and security, it lets everyone know that there’s somebody impartial outside of this organization that’s looking at everything that we’re doing and is checking it off,” she said. “If they don’t feel that it’s where it needs to be, they’re not going to give that approval.”

Hyatt said it would not be her place to comment on recent scandals that have dogged the BPD, which some members of the Baltimore community would say have worsened that mistrust.

In 2015, 25-year-old Freddie Gray died due to spinal injuries while in police custody, prompting ongoing scrutiny of the Department’s use of force. This year, a trial in January implicated several BPD officers on the Gun Trace Task Force for stealing and reselling drugs and weapons, among other criminal behavior. In May, BPD Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa resigned after facing tax fraud charges.

Though Hyatt asserted that she trusts the BPD patrols around University campuses, she said that a private police force would help ease the strain on the BPD’s resources. Hyatt, whose fellow BPD veteran Jarron Jackson followed her to Hopkins as a security advisor, affirmed that a private police force would help her ensure that sworn Hopkins officers are trained above the state standards and that they are serving the community in the best way.

Some supported plans for a private police force as a step toward greater public safety around Hopkins campuses. Others opposed the plan, citing concerns about racial profiling and use of armed force against students and community members, as well as questioning whether the University had effectively communicated with students and gathered feedback on the proposal.

At the end of March, the University pulled the Maryland legislative bills authorizing it to create the police force, with plans to do further research and community outreach before reintroducing the measure in the next legislative session in 2019.

Regardless of whether or not Hyatt would eventually be overseeing a private police force, she nevertheless expressed concerns about an active shooter incident on campus or a student in a behavioral crisis, emphasizing her commitment to handling these situations in the best way possible.

“If that doesn’t happen, and we remain a non-sworn security team like we are, it still doesn’t change the fact that it’s critically important for me to professionalize the entity that we have now,” she said. “So that means reviewing policies, reviewing trainings, which are all things that I want to make sure are up to the point where other organizations are looking at us and saying this is the gold standard.”

She also spoke about how a university-run private police force may be able to respond differently to a crisis situation on campus versus a city police officer. 

“We’re going to be able to make part of their mission really excelling in training for things like behavioral crisis, diversity training, unbiased policing,” Hyatt said. 

In addition to public safety, Hyatt is passionate about Special Olympics and regularly completes a polar bear plunge to raise money for athletes with disabilities. She explained that completing the icy plunge is a small sacrifice compared to the everyday struggles of these athletes.

“You just don’t always know what somebody else is going through, and you can’t just look at somebody, and you can’t just judge them. You really need to actually have a conversation with them,” Hyatt said. “Everybody’s going through some kind of struggle, whether you can see it or not.”

Correction: An earlier version of the article stated that students could sign up for the student advisory board on security. Students will need to apply for the student advisory board.

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