In the weeks since the University announced its divisive plan to create a private police force, administrators have attended a number of forums to solicit feedback on the proposal from students and community members. Maryland legislators are currently debating a bill, which was introduced on March 5, that would authorize the University to create such a force.
Some support the creation of a private police force because they see it as an important step in improving public safety in the areas around the University’s Baltimore campuses. Others have raised a range of concerns about the proposal, including police misconduct, such as racial profiling, and a deepened divide between Hopkins and the City.
In response to the concerns raised by students, faculty, staff and community members, the University has proposed several amendments to the original bill which will be published in the next few days.
Opponents and some supporters of the bill agree that the University did not allow for proper input from students and the community. At a forum hosted by the Charles Village Civic Association (CVCA) on Monday, Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Daniel Ennis apologized to those who felt excluded from discussions about the proposal.
“This is a setback in the trust that we work so hard to build with you, and I am sorry for that on behalf of the institution,” Ennis said. “To have a setback [like this] in our relationship with you is not good — it’s a serious setback.”
At the forum, Shane Bryan, president of the Ednor Gardens Lakeside Civic Association which represents a community neighboring the University’s East Baltimore campus, said that he had many concerns about the bill.
“A lot of folks here today really want to start over with you and talk about ways that we can build a safer community for all of Baltimore,” Bryan said. “[Hopkins] could really do a lot for all of Baltimore in reforming the practices of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD).”
According to Ennis, the amendments that have been proposed add clarify the stipulations of the bill. The University originally anticipated that the proposal would be further elaborated while writing the memorandum of understanding (MOU), which would function as a legal agreement between the University and the City or the BPD. Similar agreements are used by other university police departments.
Included in the proposed amendments is a rule requiring the University to allow for a 30-day public feedback period before finalizing the MOU in order to encourage feedback from affected individuals and groups.
The amendments also make the bill specific to Hopkins, so that it will not give similar authority to other private institutions in the City. They also limit the geographical jurisdiction of the proposed force.
Originally, the University planned to occupy the current security patrol area, but amended the bill to restrict the proposed jurisdiction to spaces on and immediately adjacent to the Homewood, Peabody and East Baltimore campuses.
In addition, the amendments put several measures in place which aim to ensure transparency and accountability for the proposed department.
University Vice President for Communications Susan Ridge shared a draft of the amendments with The News-Letter. The draft outlines the need for an advisory board which would meet at least quarterly, post public minutes after each meeting and hold a public forum at least once a year to solicit feedback on the department.
They also call for the University to “ensure constitutional and community-oriented policing” through a range of efforts, including advancing non-discriminatory policing, ensuring the use of appropriate force with non-lethal weapons in de-escalation situations, promoting community engagement and establishing a way for individuals to file complaints against the police force.
Ennis was joined at the CVCA forum by Executive Director of Campus Safety and Security Christina Presberry, Director of Local and Community Affairs Jennifer Mielke and Baltimore Police Department (BPD) Major Rich Gibson, who oversees policing in the University’s district.
University President Ronald J. Daniels also attended to answer questions from community members. He acknowledged the examples of misconduct in private police departments referenced by several attendees but contended that the University would hold itself to a higher standard.
“There are a set of standards about how you do this policing and do it well,” Daniels said. “There is a set of programs about how you ensure that campus police understand the campus environment, that they’re respectful of academic freedom, that they understand the diverse nature of the campus community.”
Almost 20 community members spoke at the forum, some of whom were Hopkins students and staff. All but two expressed opposition to the bill.
The Greater Remington Improvement Association (GRIA), which represents the Remington neighborhood south of Homewood Campus, expressed opposition to the bill in a letter to Mielke.
In the letter, GRIA President Molly McCullagh wrote that GRIA was only informed about the proposal on March 5, the day the bill was introduced.
“The time to gain community trust and receive input on legislation is before it is introduced, not after. Combined with the short legislative calendar, it is impossible for us to vet this proposal with the community in a responsible way,” McCullagh wrote. “Our neighbors deserve a voice in this process and we do not believe that can happen effectively during this session.”
At the CVCA forum, several Hopkins alumni also shared their perspectives on the proposal.
Some, like Charles Kelly, a 48-year resident of Charles Village, expressed support for the bill. Kelly said that he had spoken with almost 50 of his friends in the area who also are in favor of the proposal.
“You should thank Hopkins for trying to make our community safer,” he said.
Ralph Moore, a Charles Village resident and graduate of the class of 1974, opposes the bill because he does not want to introduce more guns to the City in the form of armed police officers.
He questioned whether the University had met with black students and alumni to hear their concerns about police misconduct. He said that black students are often stopped by campus security officers, though this does not happen if they wear Hopkins gear.
“There is a different treatment as people confront the police or are confronted by police or security if you’re African American or if you’re white,” Moore said. “We all don’t have the same experience, and that’s what makes us nervous with this police force coming forward.”
Daniels answered that there had been meetings with black students and student leadership. He added that he had met with a group of black faculty members.
According to Daniels, these faculty members agreed that a private police force would increase public safety around Hopkins campuses.
However, he added that they expressed concerns about whether African Americans and other minorities would be subject to increased scrutiny and targeting.
“There’s training, there’s a sense of professionalism, there’s a way in which this can be done,” Daniels said. “There are police forces on campuses in this country that are responsible, that have strong relationships with their community, that seem to be trustworthy and that don’t engage in systemic bias, and that’s what we’ve got to aspire to here.”
The Bloomberg School of Public Health hosted a forum on Tuesday to discuss the possibility of a private Hopkins police force.
The forum, which was streamed and posted online, featured Daniels and Ennis alongside Jeanne Hitchcock, special advisor to the vice president for Local Government, Community and Corporate Affairs.
At the forum, Daniels assured community members that the proposed private police force would not change the way Hopkins interacts with Baltimore City and that the University will continue to acknowledge factors that influence crime.
“This commitment in no way is meant to register any sense that we are shifting our approach to how we think about our relationship with the City of Baltimore,” he said. “Namely the sense that we’ve taken a view that we’re going to be tough on crime and be blind to the core conditions, motivations that create the violence within this City.”
Daniels also believes that reducing crime will benefit the future of Baltimore City.
“This is something that constitutes a core priority for how we tip the City back to a place that I think people can feel that they can have secure and stable futures, and we’re not in that place right now in a lot of ways,” he said.
Hitchcock noted that while community members were not notified about the bill before it was proposed, Hopkins is making an effort to communicate with those communities now.
“Can I say to you that every member of every neighborhood received notice? I can’t represent that to you today. I can tell you that we communicated with neighborhood associations and presidents and leaders of their public safety committees,” she said.
At another forum hosted by the Graduate Representative Organization (GRO) in Levering Hall on Monday, several students brought up concerns about racial profiling.
At an earlier meeting, members of GRO voted 25 to one to oppose the proposed police force.
Makeda Stephenson, a graduate student in Biomedical Engineering, said that she worried that an instance of racial profiling could lead to more serious consequences.
“When you’re talking about something like putting a person who is empowered and armed in a position of responsibility, it only takes one instance of that authority being misappropriated to create a tragedy, and it’s not something that you can fix afterwards,” she said.
Provost Sunil Kumar, who spoke for the University alongside Hitchcock at the forum, said that the students were describing worst-case scenarios which are “extremely unlikely.”
“Given that this will be a unit of Hopkins, we fully expect it to reflect the values of the University,” he said. “Examples of things we would want to augment in training are handling mental health issues, conflict management, community policing, de-escalation... and fair and impartial policing practices to minimize and prevent problems like racial profiling.”
One student expressed her support for the proposal. She said it was an important step in protecting students against mass shootings, which she said was a bigger issue than rising crime rates in Baltimore.
Another student said that there have been five times as many fatalities from police shootings as from mass shootings in 2018.
According to the Washington Post, there have been 21 deaths from mass shootings this year, while police violence has claimed 253, meaning there have been 12 times as many fatalities from police shootings as from mass shootings.
Following this, some students expressed concerns that the increased police presence and potential for police shootings would hurt the Baltimore communities that neighbor Hopkins campuses.
On the other hand, Hitchcock said that there is a distrust of the BPD in the City and that community members want to be engaged on the issue.
“We are not here to tell the community what they want to hear or say but to listen to what they have to say and to bring that information back and to have policy be affected by that,” she said.
Andrea Fraser, a graduate student in the Departments of Geography and Environmental Engineering, said that the administration has failed to address the mistrust many community members feel towards the University.
“The minute you hit ‘send’ on what you wanted to do before considering everyone else, you neglected all the other stakeholders that are important,” Fraser said. “You should have consulted everyone first before proceeding with this house bill. Now we’re all scrambling to get our voices heard.”