Johns Hopkins University will host a series of public discussions and other events in the coming weeks as it continues to examine the question of how best to keep its campuses and the surrounding neighborhoods safe.
The events are part of an ongoing effort to speak with students, community members, and city leaders about safety concerns on and around the university's Baltimore campuses; evaluate different models for university-based policing; and gather feedback on ways to reduce crime on campus and in neighboring communities.
"We have not wavered in our belief that Hopkins must take steps to augment our capacity to protect our campuses and surrounding areas," JHU President Ronald J. Daniels and Hopkins Medicine CEO Paul Rothman wrote in a message to students, faculty, staff, and neighbors today.
It was that same belief that prompted the university last spring to request a bill in the Maryland General Assembly that would allow Johns Hopkins to establish a campus police department, similar to those found at peer institutions in Baltimore and across the country.
The legislation, a response to a sustained increase in armed robberies and other criminal activity on and around the university's Baltimore campuses, received a mixed response. Many who spoke out said they appreciated Johns Hopkins' willingness to take on additional responsibility and cost to enhance safety and security.
But others expressed reservations and concerns—about the nature of the university's relationship with the Baltimore Police Department; about distrust of police in general, particularly with regard to bias and profiling; about negative experiences with current security personnel; and about how the establishment of a university police department might affect the university's efforts to help address the root causes of crime and violence in Baltimore.
Ultimately, university leadership and the legislature elected not to act on the bill, determining that the issue required further consideration and conversation.
"While there was broad agreement that the level of crime around our campuses and across our city is untenable, there was less consensus on how this threat should be addressed," Daniels and Rothman wrote.
"All of these perspectives are legitimate and deserving of further clarification, debate, and discussion. In fact, the common theme across all of the feedback we received was the desire to learn more about the options and best practices for improving safety and to have greater input in the university's decision-making."
Efforts to evaluate alternatives and to gather input will continue through the end of the year, Daniels and Rothman said. Establishing a university police department remains an option, they added, but the university also is actively looking for and open to different models and solutions.
To that end, Johns Hopkins will host a panel discussion on the current landscape in university policing featuring local and national experts on Oct. 29 at Schafler Auditorium on the university's Homewood campus.
Discussions on topics such as constitutional and community policing, law enforcement accountability, public safety training and technology, and understanding and addressing the root causes of crime are planned for later in the fall semester. Additionally, open forums with university leaders will be held at the 29th Street Community Center in Charles Village on Nov. 13, and at the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition in East Baltimore on Nov. 26.
University leaders and security personnel have also scheduled small group meetings throughout the remainder of the semester with student, faculty, and community organizations, and they are willing to meet with other groups.
A new university website will be regularly updated to include applicable research and crime data, draft proposals, and documentation of the feedback and recommendations received in meetings and forums. It will also include a list of upcoming events and a comment feature that allows users to submit feedback or request meetings with university leaders.
By early 2019, the university plans to publish a full report on its efforts and propose a path forward.
"It is our expectation that these multiple avenues for discussion and input will allow us to fully examine relevant research, consider the pros and cons of security models adopted by other universities, and gain a deeper understanding of the concerns that have been raised and how best to address them," Daniels and Rothman wrote.
"We look forward to hearing from you and hope to see you at one of the upcoming meetings."