Vice President for Public Safety Dr. Branville Bard Jr. sent an email to the Hopkins community containing updates on the implementation of the Johns Hopkins Police Department (JHPD) on August 23.
The email explained that over the past year, the University has devoted time to strengthening the University’s public safety organization. This includes improving operations through existing security officers and implementing crisis intervention, gender identity awareness and trauma-informed training. The office has also implemented the new Behavioral Health Crisis Support Team, a nontraditional approach to reducing violence that pairs public safety officers with clinicians to support community members experiencing personal crises.
Bard also explained how the University's Innovation Fund for Community Safety recently celebrated its first year of completion. The initiative aims to support community-led initiatives in Baltimore to address housing insecurity, job training, education, community organizing and more.
The email provided updates on the implementation of the JHPD since the two-year pause ended in June. Bard stated that the JHPD will be a small element of the public safety approach, but innovative responses to behavioral health crises and investments in community safety partnerships will have priority.
The JHPD will have jurisdictional boundaries around our Homewood, East Baltimore and Peabody campuses and will eliminate the heavy reliance on off-duty Baltimore City police officers. Bard emphasized that the JHPD will be subject to far more public accountability and oversight than other municipal or campus police departments in Maryland and across the nation.
“The JHPD will have primary law enforcement responsibility for its campus area, defined as property that is owned, leased, operated by or under the control of the University, located within specific boundaries (listed in the law) on the Homewood, East Baltimore and Peabody campuses and used for educational or institutional purposes,” he wrote.
Bard shared how the Hopkins community can participate in shaping the JHPD. A draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Johns Hopkins and the Baltimore Police Department will be shared for public and Baltimore City Council review and comment in early September.
There will be three town hall meetings that community members can attend to learn and ask questions about the MOU: the Homewood/Peabody town hall on Sept. 22 at 6 p.m. at Shriver Hall, the East Baltimore town hall on Sept. 29 at 7 p.m at Turner Auditorium and the virtual town hall on Sept. 30 at 1 p.m. All town halls will be live streamed online.
Bard wrote that he will be speaking with students, faculty, staff and neighbors to share updates and hear feedback about the JHPD and the MOU.
“I want to hear your feedback and ideas for how to make sure the JHPD meets our goal for being a model community-oriented, transparent, and constitutional public safety organization,“ he wrote.
Once the MOU process concludes, the office will begin recruiting and training officers with the guidance of the Accountability Board.
Bird explained that many steps will take place before JHPD officers are hired.
“Our hope is that we will have a final, executed MOU by early December and begin officer recruitment in early 2023 followed by officer training through the spring and summer,” he wrote. “The goal is to have a department operational by the 2023-2024 academic year.”
In an email to The News-Letter, senior Ameerah Bello shared why she believes Bard and University administration have not met with enough students or staff to impact their decision in continuing with the JHPD.
“I think [the University administration] are very strategic in which voices they choose to hear,” she wrote. “They definitely have not made the effort to speak to students that are most directly impacted by the decision because they leave student groups of color out of important conversations concerning University policies and decisions.”
Similar to Bello, senior Jayla Scott discussed how Bard failed to reach out to many student groups, including the Black Student Union, in an email to The News-Letter.
She further elaborated on her experiences as a former member of the Student Advisory Committee for Public Safety.
“I served on the Student Advisory Committee for Public Safety last year, and anytime I asked questions that questioned JHPD, Bard got very defensive,” she wrote. “Bard doesn’t want to hear anyone’s concerns; he’s committed to making this police force happen no matter how many people it may harm.”
Bird commented on concerns due to evidence of systemic injustice and brutality within police departments across the nation regarding the JHPD.
“We cannot accept violent crime in our campus neighborhoods, which affects our students, employees, and neighbors, leaves a legacy of trauma in its wake and prevents communities from thriving,“ he wrote. “Nor can we accept anything less than the highest standards of constitutional, equitable and accountable law enforcement.”
He noted that the new approach will include public health services, public safety investments and policing meant to address the root causes of crime.
Bello stated that the creation of the JHPD shows the University administration’s misplaced priorities. She explained that there are many more ways in which the University can address the well-being and safety of the student population in today's climate other than a private police force.
Echoing Bello, Scott shared why they believe the JHPD is unnecessary.
“I don’t think that safety issues on any of the campuses would indicate that after 142 years of not having a police force, they need one,” she wrote. “JHPD is yet another experiment Hopkins is trying to perform on the surrounding Baltimore communities without their consent. It shouldn’t happen.”
Bello suggested that town halls are not an effective tool to gauge student and faculty opinion on the private police force.
“I don't think town halls are effective, especially on our campus where only certain demographics feel comfortable enough to come and speak out,” she wrote. “Minority groups are often stifled and town halls are not the exception to that.”
Scott called on the University to uplift the calls of community members.
“There is video footage of Mayor Scott saying he is against JHPD,” she wrote. “Community members are asking him to affirm his position against JHPD and refuse to sign the MOU. Without the MOU, this unnecessary police force can’t happen.”