Public safety bill would allow Johns Hopkins to set up police department

Introduction of legislation in Annapolis follows months of community conversations and research about safety on and around the university's Baltimore campuses

A bill introduced in Maryland's General Assembly on Monday includes a proposal that would authorize Johns Hopkins University to establish a small, publicly accountable police department, a key step in the university's ongoing efforts to bolster safety on and around its Baltimore campuses.

The movement in the Legislature comes on the heels of months of campus and community discussions about what security and nonsecurity strategies to use to respond to an increase in crime both citywide and near JHU's campuses.

The proposed department would reflect the university's commitment to best practices in constitutional and community-oriented policing, uphold the university's values of inclusion and respect, and be subject to greater public accountability than any other Maryland law enforcement agency.

Notably, the bill proposes three layers of community oversight:

  • A 15-member accountability board tasked with reviewing police department metrics around crime and assessing current and prospective policies, procedures, and training
  • A police department hearing board for police misconduct matters that would include up to two members of the public (the maximum allowable by law)
  • Additional oversight by the Baltimore City Civilian Review Board, which independently reviews complaints of officer misconduct

A desire for transparency and public accountability was among the prevailing themes to emerge from the many community conversations the university convened over the past several months. That process included more than 125 meetings with various stakeholder groups, a public discussion series during the fall semester that featured local and national experts, and open community forums.

The conversations were part of a wide-ranging effort to hear from students, faculty, staff, community members, and city leaders about their concerns with safety; evaluate different models for university-based policing; and gather feedback on ways to reduce crime on campus and in neighboring communities.

Johns Hopkins also conducted related research, reviewing available academic literature about public safety and university policing and evaluating security operations at more than 50 peer institutions.

Those efforts led to the creation of an interim study report, which was published in December. The report, which analyzes findings from the university's research and community engagement, recommends creating a small, university-based police department to replace the current contingent of armed, off-duty Baltimore City police officers and sheriff's deputies who form part of the university's security operation near its Homewood and East Baltimore campuses.

When fully staffed, the proposed Hopkins police department would include about 100 fully sworn officers who would be trained and certified to carry firearms in the course of their duties, just like the other university police departments in Baltimore. The officers would receive additional training on de-escalation techniques, crisis response, and racial profiling prevention, among other critical skills. The majority of the security personnel at the university—about 1,000 people—would remain unarmed.

The language about a university police department at Johns Hopkins is part of a larger, comprehensive public safety bill—SB 793, the Community Safety and Strengthening Act—that also includes others measures designed to support communities in Baltimore and across the state. Those other measures include increased funding for community development programs as well as the city's YouthWorks program, which connects employers to thousands of Baltimore residents between the ages of 14 and 21 for summer jobs. Sen. Antonio Hayes, chairman of the state Senate's Baltimore City delegation, introduced the bill in the Senate. A similar bill is expected to be introduced in the House of Delegates later this week.

Once available, a link to the full Senate bill will be added to the university's Public Safety Initiatives website, which also includes additional resources, a comprehensive FAQ, and a feedback form that can be used to submit comments and/or questions. It also includes a draft version of the proposed legislation.

The bill will be referred to committee for review and hearings, which are open to the public. If the bill is passed out of committee, it would go to the full chamber for vote, then to the opposite chamber for similar proceedings. The 2019 General Assembly session concludes on April 8.

If the bill advances out of the Legislature, Johns Hopkins would engage in negotiations with the Baltimore Police Department to develop a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, with community input. A draft MOU would be shared with the university community, and public forums would be scheduled for discussion and comment. If the bill is approved, the university could begin recruitment and training of officers by late 2019 or early 2020.