Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 20, 2024

First forum on policing leaves many dissatisfied

By RACHEL JUIENG | November 1, 2018

COURTESY OF ARPAN SAHOO Panelists discussed solutions to racial profiling in campus police forces.

Following the University’s announcement that it would seek community input on its proposed private police force, members of the Hopkins and Baltimore communities attended an event called The Challenges of 21st Century Policing on Monday. It featured a panel of experts and was the first of three events intending to promote discussion on campus security. However, many felt that the format of the event did not allow enough opportunities to engage with the panelists.

Lawrence Jackson, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of English and History, moderated the discussion amongst the four panelists — Sue Riseling, executive director of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators; Cedric Alexander, deputy mayor of the city of Rochester; Maureen Rush, vice president for public safety and superintendent of University of Pennsylvania Police; and Leonard Hamm, director of public safety at Coppin State University. 

Jo Brown, a former History professor at Hopkins and a Baltimore resident, appreciated the University’s attempt to open the discussion of policing and security to the community. She said, however, that she believed an open forum with more opportunities for debate would have been more productive than an expert panel.

“One of the failures of the academic world, and Hopkins in particular, of which I was a part for a long time, is that we do not recognize different forms of expertise. We really fail in that,” Brown said, “The higher the walls of the ivory tower, the narrower the view, and that becomes a kind of profiling. It’s not necessarily racial, though it may be, but it’s a kind of profiling where we raise academic expertise over other kinds of expertise.” 

Student Government Association (SGA) Executive Vice President AJ Tsang also noted the lack of time for discussion. He explained his hopes for future events in an email to The News-Letter.

“It is indeed our hope that SGA can be more involved in selecting the panelists for the upcoming community discussions,” Tsang wrote. “It’s our hope that the academic-style discussions can include more Hopkins-based researchers.”

Jackson began the panel by discussing his personal experiences with the police. He noted that when he was a teenager in Northwest Baltimore, he had several traumatic encounters with the Baltimore Police Department (BPD), which made a lasting impact on how he viewed policing.

“My hostility has eased, but my suspicion has remained. For me, at a deeply reactionary level, I find it difficult to resolve problems by applying more police,” he said.

Alexander, who served as the chief of police of DeKalb County in Georgia and is currently deputy mayor of Rochester, N.Y., addressed the information presented on flyers which members of Students Against Private Police (SAPP) handed out prior to the event. The flyers included a quote from Black Student Union President Chisom Okereke, voicing concern over the dangers an increase in policing would pose to students of color. 

Alexander explained that in a properly-run police force, issues like racial profiling should not arise.

“We’re not just going to train and say we went to diversity training because it’s the proper thing to do. It’s something that we truly mean and will exercise,“ Alexander said.

Rush stressed the need for a campus police force and the benefits that this force could provide. 

“Everyone wants and needs safety and security, and that’s what universities have to start with before they can build all the great things they have to do,” Rush said. “Back in 1973, the University of Pennsylvania did a similar journey to what you’re going through today... The University of Pennsylvania determined that they needed to have a quicker response, a more reliable response and people that were part of the Penn Community to police the Penn environment.” 

Jackson asked the panelists how a police force would be able to overcome a major issue like racial profiling. 

Riseling addressed this by describing the ways in which she had evaluated and corrected racial bias and profiling during her time as police chief of the University of Wisconsin (UW) police force. Each year for the past 10 years, the police department at UW paid members of the community to review a 90-day period of body camera footage of traffic stops, paying special attention to what drew the officer to the stop and the tone of voice and responses of officers. 

“You can see exactly where things started to slide and go back; you can see exactly the body language, the tone of voice, the response that you’re getting, and you can dissect those and sit down with the officers and take them through, ‘this was good, this was good and now you’re sliding.’ And you can correct that behavior,” Riseling said. “You have to put systems in place that can be used over and over and over again to see what if any issues are there.”

Riseling is regarded as a leading expert on sexual assault. She stressed the importance of a police force to address this issue. 

“Specifically, with sexual assault, a very different approach is taken with a security department than a police department is that a security department, if notified of a sexual assault, first and foremost always needs to tend to the needs of the victim — whatever those needs are mentally, psychological — whatever he or she needs,” Riseling said. “If the survivor chooses to file a police report and chooses to go forward to deal with holding the assailant accountable, the university police department then moves them through that process.” 

Throughout the forum, the panelists repeated the importance of integrating the proposed police into the University community. In this vein, Hamm stated that he has recruited members of his security team from the student body at Coppin State and also encourages his officers to take classes at the university. 

“I’ve come to the conclusion that rules without relationships equals rebellion,” Hamm said. “We have a very high rating in the community, and I will tell you we have the lowest crime rate in the city.”

At the end of the moderated discussion, the audience was invited to ask the panelists questions. 

Jo Brown, who lives near campus, questioned whether the University’s engagement with the community was genuine.

“If the relationship is sincere in regard to policing and public safety, why is it that despite the excellent qualifications of each of these panelists, there is no one here from our neighborhood, there is no one here from either neighborhood — East Baltimore, Charles Village or Hampden?” she asked. “Why is it that there is no one from the largest peace movement in Baltimore City — Baltimore Ceasefire?” 

In an interview with The News-Letter, Brown stated that, though this is an essential start to the conversation about policing, she does not believe that the expert panel was the best way to begin that conversation. 

“I am very concerned about who is being represented on the panel. I think there’s some priming going on with having terrific expertise in a very narrow framework,” she said. “You can’t police your way out of the kinds of crime issues in Baltimore, and I believe that profoundly, which is why I’m involved with Baltimore Ceasefire.”

Quinn Lester, a member of SAPP, critiqued the panel’s lack of specific information about the proposed police force. 

“It was noticeable that none of them could truly make a positive argument for why Hopkins needs a private police force instead of other kinds of security arrangements, and by the end [they] could only talk in platitudes about community policing and better training that have been used since the 1960s,” Lester said. 

Community member Joseph Kane applauded the efforts of the University for opening this discussion. However, he noted that the panelists often used language that was meant to incite fear in the audience. 

“That’s counter productive to the conversation of public safety, because public safety includes policing, but there is a bigger picture which includes a lot more things too,” Kane said. “Hopkins, which is seen as this world renowned institution, has the opportunity in a city like Baltimore to be a leader in how we define public safety.” 

Meagan Peoples contributed reporting. 

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