Johns Hopkins Says No Private Police, for Now

The university will delay plans to create a campus police department for at least two years.

June 15, 2020
 
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Johns Hopkins University will pause plans to create a private campus police department for at least two years, the administration announced Friday. The private policing plan had been opposed by students and faculty, who argued that the force would not increase safety and would put the welfare of people of color on campus in jeopardy.

In a statement, the administration said the pause would allow the university to "benefit from the national re-evaluation of policing in society brought about by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police," which occurred on Memorial Day and set off a wave of nationwide protests.

A message from university and hospital leaders, including President Ronald Daniels, to the Hopkins community said that since national and local lawmakers are now considering broad reforms to policing, the university could benefit from any new norms and best practices that are built in the next two years.

"[The pause] will provide us with time to work with city leadership, including a new mayor and our police commissioner, and understand fully the strategy for police reform, improved safety, and violence reduction that our city requires," the leaders said.

A bill supporting the creation of the force was approved by the Maryland General Assembly and signed by Governor Larry Hogan in April 2019.

"We sought the legislative authorization to build this department because of the sustained surge in violent crime directly impacting our students, faculty, staff, and neighbors and because, in contrast to our public university peers in the city, we lacked a police department that could help protect them," the campus leaders wrote in their recent message. The legislation enacted the best practices recommended by President Barack Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, they said.

Campus police have been criticized in recent years for their handling of racial incidents and students with mental health issues. Students, organizations and unions at other universities have recently been calling for their campuses to cut ties with local police and disband any existing university police departments.

The opposition by students to the Hopkins police plan culminated in May of last year with the occupation of Garland Hall, a campus building containing administrative offices including the office of the president. Ultimately, seven protesters were arrested.

This January, a group of 101 faculty members sent a letter to the Hopkins Board of Trustees opposing the policing plan, arguing that private university police would not increase campus or community safety, would reduce accountability, and would reinforce the university's image as a "gated community."

"The citizens of Baltimore can oust a mayor who appoints an ineffective or corrupt police commissioner. But neither the members of the Johns Hopkins Community nor our neighbors elect the university president who approves the plan and hires the head of security," the letter read. "If Johns Hopkins were serious about improving policing for Baltimoreans, it would not create a private police force."

In the wake of Floyd's killing, a resurgence in national conversation about policing and calls to defund or disband municipal police departments, students and faculty renewed their calls in past weeks for campus leaders to abandon the private policing plan.

Concerned faculty circulated a petition earlier this month, now signed by over 5,600 students, faculty and Baltimore residents. A student Facebook page associated with the Garland occupation encouraged others to sign.

"As a nation, we are recognizing deeply-entrenched racism within law enforcement and demanding a comprehensive restructuring of the role of policing in this country," the petition reads. "Black and brown students, faculty, and staff at Johns Hopkins and residents of Baltimore City have been clear: We are already disproportionately targeted by law enforcement and see a Hopkins police force as a threat to our safety and the safety of our friends and families."

In reaction to the announcement of the pause, the Facebook page associated with the student sit-in said a delay is not enough.

"The call is for full abandonment! The university has caused us all enough embarrassment on this issue," the group posted.

A group called Students Against Private Police said the move was a victory for organizers but cautioned that energy against the plan should not waver as students graduate.

"They wait for activists and organizers who worked on the issue to graduate and then double their efforts to burden the student body with a universally unpopular policy," the group posted on Facebook. "Those of us who want to ensure that Hopkins remains cop-free have to work with freshmen to guarantee that they will pick up the struggle once the time comes."

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