On Thursday, April 18, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan approved legislation that will allow Hopkins to establish a private police force. By signing the bill – titled the Community Safety and Strengthening Act – into law, Hogan has authorized Hopkins to be the first private university in Maryland to have its own police force.
University President Ronald J. Daniels released a statement where he praised the bill’s passage and explained the next steps for the planned police force.
“The law will go into effect on July 1, 2019, after which we will enter a multiyear process of implementation. There will be many steps to come as we collaborate with the city of Baltimore, our neighbors, and the university community around the operational and public accountability structures for establishing the police department,” Daniels wrote.
Administrators will now begin negotiating a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Baltimore Police Department (BPD), as well as soliciting community input. After negotiating the MOU, the University could begin recruiting and training officers by late 2019 or early 2020.
The bill passed in the Maryland General Assembly on March 28 and also includes millions of dollars in funding for Baltimore City youth programs. It limits the size of the police force to 100 employees and outlines rules for how the proposed force will operate, including the types of crimes that fall under its jurisdiction. The bill also establishes an accountability board comprised of Hopkins students, faculty and community members. With the exception of one member appointed by the mayor and one appointed by the city council, all members of the board must be approved by the Maryland Senate.
Junior Rojahne Azwoir conducts research that focuses on Baltimore residents attitudes’ toward police officers. She raised concerns about the makeup of the accountability board.
“Who’s gonna trust Hopkins when the board that’s supposed to review the private police force is comprised of 10 people that Hopkins chose and the other five are chosen by the mayor that has to step down?” she said. “I’ve worked with people in the city before, and they’re more afraid of the police than of being robbed.”
Since a previous version of the bill was introduced into the Maryland General Assembly in March 2018, students, faculty and community members have expressed opposition to the bill. Currently, members of Students Against Private Police (SAPP) and the Hopkins Coalition Against ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) are staging a sit-in at Garland Hall to protest the proposed force. As of press time, the sit-in has lasted 16 days.
Sophomore Jeremy Berger, who has been participating in the sit-in, said that he was not surprised or discouraged by the fact that the bill has now been signed into law. He added that protesters will continue protesting the University’s plans.
“I’m not surprised. It’s what we expected,” he said. “We’re still demanding that Hopkins not create a private police force and put students, staff, faculty and community members in danger against our wishes and against our will. The fight’s not even close to being over; we’re just getting started.”
Student Government Association Executive Vice President Miranda Bannister echoed Berger’s sentiments. She called for the University to abandons its plans for the private police force.
According to results from an SGA referendum, 74.4 percent of respondents oppose the creation of a private police force.
“Just because the administration has the green light from the governor doesn’t mean that it should proceed with its plans,” she wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “Admin still has the chance to change course.”
In his statement, Daniels emphasized that he wanted the University community to work together in order to implement the best possible form of community policing.
“We are firmly committed to working with our students, staff, faculty and neighbors to continue hearing varying viewpoints and to ensure public accountability, public transparency and public input within a [Hopkins police department],” he wrote.
Vikram Chandrashekhar is a member of Teachers and Researchers United (TRU), a graduate student organization. He argued that the bill’s passage neglected to address the concerns of student, faculty and community voices.
He further stated that TRU and other organizations will continue to protest the private police force initiative.
“[The law] is really the culmination of a very anti-democratic process that Hopkins has been engaged in since the very introduction of this bill,” he said. “TRU, SAPP, ICE Out JHU and other community groups will remain in Garland... so that the University will engage in a more democratic process with both the students and the community surrounding Hopkins.”
Chairwoman Jillian Aldebron of the organization Women Against Private Police (WAPP) commended these groups in an interview with The News-Letter.
She stated that she plans to hold a referendum on the creation of a private police force. She needs to collect 69,132 signatures by June 30 in order to get the bill on the Maryland ballot in November 2020. The number of signatures needed to get the bill on the ballot is three percent of the individuals who voted in the last general election.
Aldebron said that she has not started collecting signatures yet. She explained that she asked the Baltimore City Board of Elections to check the legal language in WAPP’s summary of the bill. According to Aldebron, the Board of Elections told WAPP that they are not legally able to exclusively hold a referendum on the part of the bill that authorizes Hopkins to create its own private police force.
Aldebron argued that the Board of Elections misread case law, since in the past, there have been referendums only some parts of bills. She also believes that the Maryland General Assembly may have earmarked millions of dollars in funding for Baltimore City youth programs to make opposing the proposed private police force more difficult.
“There has been some speculation that the whole reason that they stuck those things in there was to inoculate the bill from a potential voter referendum,” she said.
According to Aldebron, WAPP has until Friday to file the referendum with the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County. They are currently seeking a lawyer to help them petition for judicial review on the Board of Elections’ decision.
Aldebron said that the University’s influence in Baltimore has hindered their quest to find a lawyer.
“Hopkins has so many resources and they have managed to intimidate so many people,” she said. “There’s just about no private attorney in all of Baltimore who will challenge Hopkins, not one.”