Baltimore legislators vote to allow proposed private police force

By DIVA PAREKH and CLAIRE GOUDREAU | March 14, 2019

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Baltimore Delegates and Senators voted in favor of HB 1094 and SB 793.

This is an updated version of a previous breaking news piece.

The Baltimore City Senate and House delegations to the Maryland General Assembly voted in favor of legislation that will allow the University to create a private police force. The Senate delegation voted 3-2 in favor on Thursday, March 7 and the House delegation voted 9-4 in favor on Tuesday, March 12.

In the Senate, Senators Antonio Hayes, Cory McCray and Shirley Nathan-Pulliam voted in favor of the bill titled the “Community Safety and Strengthening Act,” while Senators Mary Washington and Jill Carter voted against it. The sixth member of the delegation, Senator Bill Ferguson, recused himself from the vote because he is a University employee.

In the House, delegates Cheryl Glenn, Curt Anderson, Dalya Attar, Talmadge Branch, Frank Conaway, Keith Haynes, Brooke Lierman, Maggie McIntosh and Samuel Rosenberg voted in favor of the bill. Delegates Regina Boyce, Robbyn Lewis, Nick Mosby and Melissa Wells voted against it. Delegate Tony Bridges recused himself from the vote because he works for Hopkins. Delegates Luke Clippinger and Stephanie Smith were absent. 

Next, the bills – Senate Bill 793 and House Bill 1094 – will need to pass through the Maryland State Senate and House, respectively, before they become law. 

During the House proceedings, Congressman Elijah Cummings testified in favor of the bill, citing Baltimore’s high crime rate. He emphasized that Hopkins did not ask him to come and testify in support of the legislation.

Cummings also recalled the death of his nephew, who died as a result of a shooting in his home near Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. where he was a junior at the time. 

“They had a whole spade of robberies on the campus before my nephew got killed and they had not taken the appropriate precautions to try and deal with it,” Cummings said. “What I’ve come to do today is to beg you to do something... I could not sleep unless I came to share these thoughts with you.”

Following this, members of Students Against Private Police (SAPP) protested the bill chanting, “no justice, no peace, no private police.” Police removed the demonstrators from the room.

Members of SAPP shared their response in a statement to The News-Letter. The statement criticizes the delegations’ vote in favor of the bill and notes that many members of the Hopkins community, including over 100 faculty members, have opposed the bill. 

“SAPP felt the need to disrupt what has become a fundamentally undemocratic and rushed process on a bill that will directly and irreversibly affect thousands of Baltimore citizens,” the statement reads. “Delegates have continued to listen to Johns Hopkins rather than Baltimoreans and move forward with a slightly amended bill that still gives Johns Hopkins everything it has asked for on a silver platter. It is with disbelief that we observe the body give up their own jurisdiction over a critical governmental power.”

Though the senate vote was planned for Wednesday, Hayes, the senator who sponsored the bill, delayed it to Thursday. During the session on Wednesday, city senators endorsed amendments to the legislation, which include: requiring that 25 percent of officers come from Baltimore; requiring officers to wear body cameras in compliance with the Maryland Public Information Act; and limiting the areas that Hopkins police officers would be allowed to patrol. All these amendments were also adopted by the House. 

For officers to patrol neighborhoods in the vicinity of Hopkins campuses, the University would have to seek permission from community associations. Without these permissions, patrols would be restricted to the Homewood, Peabody and East Baltimore Campuses.

In an email to The News-Letter, University Vice President for Communications Susan Ridge expressed support for the senators’ decisions.

“We appreciate that the Baltimore City Senate Delegation voted to support the Community Safety and Strengthening Act and the role that a university police department can play in reducing violent crime,” Ridge wrote. “We also recognize the substantive work and consideration the delegation put into the amendment process and appreciate that these changes address our goal of ensuring public accountability and public transparency.”

SAPP member and Bloomberg School of Public Health graduate student Meridian Howes travelled to Annapolis, Md. to hear senators discuss the bill. Howes was disappointed by the proceedings they witnessed. 

They explained that some amendments Washington and Carter proposed could have increased the accountability of a Hopkins police force but were voted down.

“One amendment was proposed that would require representatives from the student assembly at Homewood and the Black Student Union to be on an oversight committee, and that was voted down,” Howes said. “It’s very clear that there’s not interest on the University’s part or on the part of McCray and Hayes and others who have been voting down these [amendments] to actually increase community accountability or to actually listen to any constituents.”

Kevin Cleary, who worked for the Baltimore City’s Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management before his retirement, lives near Homewood Campus and was relieved that the city senators voted in favor of the bill. 

“Forty years ago as a student, I might’ve been on the other side [of the debate]. But I’ve spent a lot of time working closely with police officers, looking at crime numbers and we’re not doing well in this city. We need more well trained, properly supervised police officers,” Cleary said. “The people at Hopkins that are hired to create their police force are very capable of doing that.”

He explained that the amendment restricting the force to 100 officers would make it significantly more manageable.

“Even when it’s fully staffed, 100 officers is a very small agency. It’s really no bigger than a district. And I’ve seen district commanders be able to have complete control over how their officers respond,” he said.

Cleary believes that the accountability board will be instrumental in allowing Baltimore community members to hold Hopkins police officers accountable. He felt, however, that the amendment requiring the Senate to confirm each member of the accountability board was questionable. 

“The Senate’s only in session for a very short period of time, so mid-January to mid-April,” he said. “It really weakens the purpose of the accountability board that it has to wait to get the Senate confirmation for its appointments.”

According to Cleary, this vote will be instrumental in convincing state senators to vote in favor of the bill. He explained that in his experience, legislators from other jurisdictions in Maryland tend to defer to those from the jurisdiction that the bill would most affect when deciding which way to vote.

However, in their statement, SAPP members argued that Baltimore City delegates who voted in favor of the bill did not sufficiently take into account the opinions of the Hopkins and Baltimore community members. They also believe that the bill will do little to address crime in the city. 

“Delegates need to listen to their constituents,” the statement reads. “SAPP has made clear arguments against this proposal since its introduction: it privatizes policing as an essential public good, it adds more police to an already over-policed city, the bill is confusing and vague in its actual execution, and will do nothing to address Baltimore’s real public safety needs.”

The News-Letter reached out to all five senators who voted on the bill. Senator Shirley Nathan-Pulliam declined to comment. Senators Antonio Hayes, Cory McCray, Mary Washington and Jill Carter did not respond by press time.

Meagan Peoples contributed reporting.

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