Police force bill includes youth program funding

Police force bill includes youth program funding

COURTESY OF ALEX KLEIN

Last week, lawmakers introduced bills to both the Senate and the House of the Maryland General Assembly that would allow Hopkins to create its own private police force. These bills, Senate Bill (SB) 793 and House Bill (HB) 1094, also include millions of dollars in appropriations for Baltimore City youth programs, including the Baltimore Children and Youth Fund, an organization launched in 2016 to support youth leadership and the Baltimore City YouthWorks Summer Jobs Program, which connects underserved youth with paying summer jobs.

Some Hopkins community members as well as Baltimore residents have criticized the bill for tying the creation of a private police force to funding these programs, calling the new proposal an attempt to force the community to accept the bill. Others, however, believe that the youth programs included in the bill will help address the root causes of crime.

Senior Indu Radhakrishnan interned at YouthWorks during the summer of 2017 and throughout the following academic year. She was surprised that a bill which would increase the number of police in Baltimore also included funding for YouthWorks.

“I had a very visceral and very disgusted reaction to it, mostly because I think the whole mission of YouthWorks is so antithetical to what this police force bill is proposing. It seems like this very underhanded way for the University to tie these initiatives together which I don’t think belong together at all,” she said. 

According to Radhakrishnan, YouthWorks garnered increased community investment following the death of Freddie Gray in 2015. Gray was an unarmed black man who died from injuries sustained in police custody. She believes his death prompted more community members to help at-risk youth. 

In an email to The News-Letter Hopkins Vice President for Communications Susan Ridge emphasized that providing funding for youth programs is an important aspect of public safety. 

“We are pleased that in response to community input both SB 793 and HB 1094 include a series of proposals to help address the root causes of crime through investments in neighborhood development, youth engagement, and economic opportunity. This comprehensive approach to public safety will make a significant contribution to the safety of our city and the neighborhoods around our campuses,” she wrote. 

The bills also include funding for a law enforcement apprenticeship cadet program which would provide a pathway for youth to enter law enforcement; the East Baltimore Historical Library; and the Seed Community Development Anchor Institution Fund.

Senator Antonio Hayes sponsored SB 793, titled The Community Safety and Strengthening Act. Hayes told The Baltimore Sun that while he does not necessarily support the creation of a Hopkins police force, he appreciates the bill’s focus on funding youth programs. HB 1094 is currently sponsored by six Democratic delegates.

The bills would also require the University to create a Police Athletic/Activities League (PAL) at its own expense. PAL is a national program which works to build relationships between police officers and city youth.

Radhakrishnan does not believe that the University would support a bill funding youth programs if it weren’t tied to the creation of their police force. 

“If it is about the communities and it is about strengthening and addressing the root causes then shouldn’t the University be advocating for these things separately, too? It seems like this is just an addendum to make what is an objectionable thing more palatable to people who are very much opposed to it,” she said. 

Ridge emphasized that no portion of the bill is contingent on another. The different provisions may be discussed and passed during the legislative process independently of one another.

“The comprehensive approach proposed in SB 793 and HB 1094 reflects requests from the community to accompany any new police department with other new commitments — from the state, the city, and Johns Hopkins — to address the root causes of violent crime through investments in neighborhood development, youth engagement, and economic opportunity,” Ridge wrote.

Kevin Cleary is a community member, Hopkins alum and the former director of preparedness for the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management. Cleary supports the creation of a private police force, as well as the provisions for the youth programs. However, he stated that it would be better if the initiatives were separate so that each could survive on its own merit. 

“If this stuff gets separated from the police bill when it goes to the committee that wouldn’t be a bad thing,” Cleary said. “This is like putting lollipops in with the medicine.”

Students Against Private Police (SAPP) held a rally on Brody terrace in response to the bill on Wednesday, Feb. 13. SAPP reemphasized their opposition to a police force in a statement to The News-Letter.

“There is no bill which can address our concerns, because a private police force would A) inherently lack accountability, B) likely increase harm to marginalized communities, and C) lack residents’ and students’ support,” the statement read. 

Lester Spence, an associate professor of Political Science, spoke at the rally. He criticized the University for seeking to increase policing in the city, adding that many of the hospitals and universities in Baltimore already have security forces in addition to the Baltimore Police Department.

“What we’re doing, not just nationally, but here in Baltimore, when we make the decision to say we want another police force, is we’re increasing the size of the police state as it currently exists in Baltimore,” Spence said at the rally.

Charles Village resident Nariman El Said said in an interview with The News-Letter that the purpose of the protest was to show Hopkins that the community is united in being opposed to the police force. 

“[The University] can try to portray it as something that the community is for, but I think the numbers and the petitions amongst the student body and the community show otherwise,” she said. 

An interim study which the University released in December stated that “while fewer supporters weighed in during public events, a significant number of individuals expressed support through one-on-one conversations and online.”

The Student Government Association released preliminary results of an omnibus referendum on Feb. 6. The referendum asked undergraduates the question whether they support the creation of a private police force, to which 74.76 percent responded “no.” 

Indu Radhakrishnan stated that she doesn’t see a large body of support for the bill and that, in fact, many students seem to be opposed to it. 

“Why are we trying to push forward something that is so deeply unpopular?” she said. “If we are the stakeholders here and we are the people that are being protected, we should have some sort of buy into this.” 

Others are also hesitant to support a Hopkins police force. This includes Senator Mary Washington, who submitted an alternative bill to the Maryland General Assembly. Senate Bill (SB) 717 would still allow Hopkins to create its own police force, but it would also place restrictions on the powers of campus police officers depending on what properties they patrol. 

There are similarities between Washington’s bill and the bill sponsored by Hayes that the University favors, Ridge said, including a recognition that fully sworn University police officers can make a meaningful contribution to public safety. She also wrote that the University recognizes Washington’s concerns about ensuring that a police force would be publicly accountable. 

Ridge explained why the University supports Hayes’ bill, rather than the model of policing outlined in Washington’s bill. 

“One of the options considered through the fall and described in the ‘Interim Report’ was Senator Washington’s suggestion to establish a dedicated unit of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) designated specifically for universities in Baltimore, including Johns Hopkins,” Ridge wrote. “Unfortunately, the feedback for this idea was very negative, largely because of concerns about the other challenges the BPD is facing. Even with our help and resources, BPD simply does not have enough officers to provide such a unit and faces a number of other urgent priorities.”

In contrast with Washington and other’s concerns, community member Kevin Cleary believes that SB 793 has done a good job of addressing community concerns that came up during the public forums on policing hosted by the University. He stated that it is not truly a private police force because there are so many accountability provisions. 

These provisions include the creation of a 15-person University Police Accountability Board, body-worn cameras and placing the force under the jurisdiction of the Civilian Review Board. 

“Even though it’s a private force, the provisions of this bill make it an entity that’s under constant review by the public,” Cleary said. “There’s many ways this bill creates a strong public engagement with this private police force.”

However, Cleary also said that it is important for those who are skeptical of the police force to continue voicing their concerns. 

“I’m hoping as we go forward that people who are mistrustful do pay attention, do come to the meetings, do continue to be constructive critiques of the process so that it can be stronger,” he said. 

Claire Goudreau contributed reporting.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Nariman El Said as he”, the article has since  been corrected. The News-Letter regrets this error. 

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