By Stephen Janis and Taya Graham, Special to the AFRO
A plan to allow Johns Hopkins University to start its own police department, staffed by officers with arrest powers, has been temporarily shelved by the Maryland General Assembly.
In a last minute move this week State Delegate Curt Anderson withdrew a bill that would have enabled the university to enter a memorandum of understanding with the Baltimore Police Department to authorize sworn officers to patrol both its North Baltimore campus and the hospital facilities in East Baltimore.
“We decided, me and the chairman of the judiciary spoke with Hopkins and said, look the ground swell against the bill is overwhelming, you really need to go and get this with the community,” State Delegate Curt Anderson told The AFRO.”
“The constituencies around Hopkins and the students didn’t like it.”
In an earlier interview with the AFRO, Johns Hopkins University President Ron Daniels said the plan was in response to an uptick in violent crime in the areas surrounding both campuses following the 2015 uprising after the death of Freddie Gray.
“As you can imagine post Freddie Gray, we had a significant surge of violence in the city and particularly around our campus,” Daniels told The AFRO.
“We saw 18 armed robberies near the Homewood Campus just in the fall alone – 12 involving our students, this was a level of crime we were not used to.”
But unexpected pushback from students concerned about a culture of corrupt policing in the city, and the negative impact of officers on campus would have on the school’s minority students, lead the city delegation to conclude the proposal needed further study.
“They conflate any police force with the Baltimore police force,” Anderson said. “One of the things they’ll have to do when this comes back is to put in assurances to the community that the community itself will have some oversight of this police force if Hopkins continues with this effort.”
Students who initially opposed the plan said they were pleased the proposal will be tabled.
“I believe it was a very smart move I think it makes sense to pull the bill. The most interesting thing that Hopkins says they are doing it for the students,” said Karter Burnett, a sophomore at Hopkins and one of the founders of student organization called Students Against Private Police or (SAPP).
Burnett says the concerns about violent crime are overstated.
“The violent crime he is referring to either does not exist, or is crime that is happening on campus that has not been reported or acknowledged. There are way more assaults that are happening at fraternities which aren’t being handled effectively or reported,” Burnett said.
For now Anderson says he will reconsider the bill next year only if community support is evident.
But Burnett says students plan to continue to organize against the proposal and hope the bill is done for good.
“We plan to continue fighting this 100 percent.”