Daniel Ennis, the University’s senior vice president for finance and administration, and Robert Kasdin, Hopkins Medicine’s senior vice president, chief financial officer and chief operating officer, announced on Thursday the opening of the application period for the University’s Police Accountability Board in an email to the community.
The Accountability Board will be comprised of five community members unaffiliated with the University and 10 Hopkins students, faculty members and staff.
In an interview with The News-Letter, Jarron Jackson, Campus Safety and Security senior director, explained that these ratios were set by the Community Strengthening Act — which established the Johns Hopkins Police Department (JHPD) — and supported through best-practices research.
Jackson further explained the intent behind the establishment of the Accountability Board. He stated that the board will serve as a way for community members to share their opinions about the JHPD and its establishment directly with the University.
“This is the mechanism where the community’s voices are going to be heard by the University. This group of individuals is going to be tasked with the shaping and development of the JHPD,“ Jackson said. “And again, this is not just at the beginning, this is not going to be a small moment in time, this board is going to be there for [JHPD’s] entirety.”
Jackson stressed the unique nature of the Accountability Board.
He explained that while other law enforcement agencies have started trying to integrate community voices into their regular functioning, this Accountability Board will guarantee that the JHPD incorporates such feedback from its inception.
“This ensures we begin with the voice of the community, instead of trying to add it later, or treating it as an afterthought, which it definitely isn’t. And I say this as a Baltimore City resident, so I’m deeply invested in this process and the transparency of the process,” Jackson said.
According to committe member Keshia Pollack Porter, a professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, a nominating committee for the Police Accountability Board will convene for the first time on Nov. 8.
The committee, chaired by non-voting member Calvin Smith, director of Student Leadership and Involvement, is composed of nine named individuals from different institutions within the University and one as-yet undetermined community member.
Karen Lancaster, interim vice president for communications at the University, explained that the two student members of the nominating committee currently serve on the Student Advisory Committee for Security. The students are an undergraduate student at the Peabody Institute and a graduate student at the Medical Campus.
“They are joined on the nominating committee by faculty, staff and community members,” Lancaster said. “All have demonstrated their commitment to working with the University to improve the neighborhoods where they live and work around our Baltimore campuses.”
The nominating committee is responsible for reviewing applications and developing a list of recommended nominees in what Jarron Jackson described as a three-tier system.
He highlighted the role of transparency in this selection process.
“First they have to apply. Once that application is submitted and accepted, it goes to the nominating committee. The nominating committee will review all of those applications that come in from interested persons. From there it’ll go all into University leadership, who will decide from that pool of individuals who they will submit to the Maryland State Senate. And then the Maryland State Senate has to approve those candidates,” Jackson said. “And that entire process is going to be transparent and public. These won’t be closed door sessions.”
In an email to The News-Letter, Porter expressed her belief in the necessity of the Accountability Board for the proper functioning of the JHPD.
“[It] provides a way for the community, and by community I am referring to students, faculty, staff, and residents, to provide input into the development and operation of the JHPD; it supports transparency; and it will allow the JHPD to be held accountable,” Porter wrote. “As an institution I feel that we need to get this right because the entire community needs to have faith in the system.”
Lancaster emphasized that the Accountability Board’s function is rooted in the legislation that was passed to establish the JHPD.
“These nominations will actually have to end up being approved by the Senate,” Lancaster said. “So this is all rooted back in the legislation that was passed as part of what we advocated for, to have this transparency.”
Jackson elaborated on the qualities that the University considered in selecting the candidates for the nominating committee as well as the qualities that the nominating committee is looking for in applicants for the accountability board.
“We’re looking for people who had a deep commitment to the community, those who are regarded as leaders in their individual fields and also advocates,” Jackson said. “The nominating committee, along with the accountability board, is a deep commitment, it’s one of the reasons we are asking for a two-year commitment for those who are selected for the accountability board. This is not a one-meeting kind of thing. This is a deep commitment for two years where you are shaping the formation of a police department.”
Jackson also stressed the necessity of having a diversity of opinion and thought represented on the Accountability Board. He also noted that the ratio of Hopkins students to Hopkins faculty and staff will be determined with this criteria in mind.
“What’s vital is that we have a cross-section of diverse opinions,” Jackson said. “And when I say diversity I mean diversity across faculty, community members, staff, gender, sexual identity and gender identity, and we want to ensure all those voices are heard.”
Some students remained unconvinced that this mechanism for the community to voice their opinions to the University will be effective.
Sophomore Xandi Egginton stressed that the Accountability Board seemed more like an appeasement measure rather than an actual effort to make University policing transparent and community-driven.
Egginton referenced student and faculty disapproval of the private police force. Last year, a majority of responding undergraduates stated in a Student Government Association referendum that they did not support the private police force. Over 100 faculty members out of more than 4,500 full-time faculty members at Hopkins signed an open letter expressing their concerns with the idea.
“The student body’s message was clear... None of us thought JHPD would productively make our campus, or Peabody and the Medical School for that matter, safer and more accessible,” Egginton said. “I fear that, at the end of the day, instead of guaranteeing that JHPD abides by our principles and values, the accountability board will dilute these ethics and their efficacy.”
Egginton also expressed concerns about the representation of the board in terms of the three locations that the JHPD will be responsible for, given the different neighborhoods that the Homewood, Peabody and East Baltimore campuses reside in.
“All of these campuses, after all, are surrounded by vastly different neighborhoods and serve distinct populations. How can we assume that Hopkins policing will have, or should have, the same impact on different areas of the city?” Egginton said. “Further, how can we ensure that our values are being represented when only a third of the board will be confronting questions of accountability with a Homewood campus perspective?”
Other students, such as Kendall Free, who serves on the Vice President for Security Search Committee, had a more positive take on the Accountability Board. She expressed her appreciation for the makeup of the nominating committee and the fact that it was offering more students the opportunity to engage with the University’s plans.
“I like that there’s not one but two student representatives,” Free said. “The two [students] they picked are also separate from the folks who are on the search committee. So they are spreading the opportunity out, so I like that in terms of the process… This is going to be a new space to really create that fresh input that maybe they’re not getting contact with because they are in their offices and only interface with the advisory board.”
Free asserted that the Accountability Board holds a lot of potential and that it constitutes an important measure for the University.
“I really do believe overall that this Accountability Board could be a great place for folks to give input,” Free said.