The University’s adamant insistence on the need to create a private police force is a rushed attempt to circumvent student and community input and involvement in an issue which raises serious concerns of accountability and transparency.
The administration continues to claim that the University is in touch with the communities who would be affected by the creation of a private force and desires their input. Yet, at the SGA forum on March 13, Provost Sunil Kumar admitted that Hopkins has been engaged in peer reviews at other universities for “over several months,” while (as Special Advisor Jeanne Hitchcock said) community members and organizations found out about the University’s intentions at the same time students did — in the March 5 email. At the Annapolis hearing for HB1803, the bill that would allow Hopkins to create this force, one University representative went so far as to say, albeit tentatively and offhandedly, that certain communities want this private police force.
How could this possibly be true, when the Greater Remington Improvement Association, the Charles Village Civic Association and the Baltimore Redevelopment Action Coalition for Empowerment (of East Baltimore), among many others, responded with outrage that they had never been informed, never mind asked for input?
Hopkins claims to care for students’ input, but when pressed on whether a referendum with a negative response would compel them to drop the idea, Provost Kumar skirted the question, replying that it is out of their hands and now in those of the legislature. They, however, were the ones who put it there, without consulting anyone who it could affect. The administration rushed it into the assembly because they wanted it ratified before the end of this session, leaving the details largely unspecified.
The administration’s representatives could not answer basic questions from delegates and students: how far patrol boundaries would extend; what level of armed response they envision; what “under the control” of Hopkins (a vague phrase in the bill regarding the location of private police presence) means; whether officers would have arrest powers outside patrol zones; how they would handle misconduct complaints and prevent racial profiling; what the current data for sexual assault on campus is and how they would prevent a Hopkins force from exacerbating it.
Most confounding, however, is the appalling lack of evidence. For an institution that prides itself on rigor and research, they have shown no conclusive evidence. We have presented our research that private police are not necessarily effective in reducing crime and that police in general tend to harm disabled, neurodivergent, LGBTQ people and people of color. Where is the University’s solid data that crime really has increased around its campuses? Provost Kumar cited 18 incidents since September 2017, all of which were outside the Homewood patrol area — an area over which a private police would have no influence.
Maryland State Delegate Charles Sydnor, a Hopkins alumnus, asked who the police force is really for. “Is it the Baltimore City population that’s not affiliated with Hopkins? Is it Hopkins students who happen to be breaking the law [i.e. alcohol or drug abuse]?” The representative responded, “We’re not creating this for criminalizing student conduct good or bad.” Not that increased criminalization of these offenses would be beneficial, but why are Hopkins students given special exemption from the law? The question remains, as Del. Sydnor said, “Who are we trying to police?”
Despite the University’s assurances to the contrary, a police force managed by a private institution which places its own interests first can neither be fully transparent nor truly accountable to the surrounding communities it will impact. A Hopkins police force may not be subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and considering that Hopkins is currently under investigation for Title IX violations, its transparency is already in question.
It is difficult to imagine what would compel Hopkins to release its records in the interest of transparency, when those records could damage its reputation. Moreover, the Baltimore residents who would be affected had no say in the matter in the first place. Even if there had been some prior attempt at gathering feedback, who would such a University police department respond to? Constituents cannot vote a private entity out of office. Even if an independent oversight committee were to be formed, it is difficult to see what real power they would have or on what it would be based.
Public safety is undeniably a serious concern but one whose complexity allows no simple fixes. More police is the not the catch-all answer to reducing crime — especially when research has shown the opposite. Especially when one of the most prevalent violent crimes affecting Hopkins students is that of sexual assault, to which the logic of greater police presence acting as a deterrent does not apply.
We are ready to work toward and propose alternative solutions: funding education, affordable housing, better healthcare. These may be long term, but they are most effective. In the meantime, Hopkins should establish genuine relationships with surrounding communities instead of imposing an unwarranted police force on their neighbors. We should not place Baltimoreans’ quality of life in the hands of a University which listens neither to their worries nor to the concerns of its own students.
Alicia Badea is a sophomore English major from New York, N.Y.