By Stephen Janis, Special to the AFRO

It seemed like a relatively straightforward proposal.

An uptick in crime around Johns Hopkins’ campuses in Homewood and East Baltimore prompted JHU president Ron Daniels to push for a law that would enable the university to establish a professional police force replete with arrest powers similar to nearby institutions like Morgan State University and Towson University.

“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, in a city where police corruption continues to make national headlines and skepticism about the ability of cops to address the complex root causes of crime, nothing involving law enforcement is easy; particularly on a campus where students seem both conscious of the pitfalls of policing and capable of making sure their voices are heard.

“I think they are honestly surprised they are getting pushback, “ Victor Kumar a graduate student explained. “Which just goes to show how out of touch they are.”

Along with a series of protests, students manned a phone bank this week to urge legislators to vote against a bill currently on the agenda in Annapolis that would grant Hopkins the right to enter into a memorandum of agreement with the Baltimore Police Department and establish a full fledged department.

The legislation, sponsored by Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-45), in the house and Sen. Joan Carter-Conway (D-43), in the Senate, is currently in committee with a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee planned for March 16.

Organizers say their efforts to stop the bill is tied to intractable problems of racialized policing and community distrust that has defined law enforcement in the city that surrounds them; particularly in light of the recent scandal involving the Gun Trace Task Force, which led to convictions and guilty pleas of nine officers accused of racketeering, overtime fraud and robbing residents.

“Hopkins creating a private police force means there will be more cops in the city and they will be less accountable,” senior Hopkins student, Miranda Bachman told the AFRO.

“If we’re in danger and there are students in danger it is from other students. The amount of reports we do not get for sexual assault is insane. I hear from people all the time.”

It is a concern Daniels argues a professional police force could address.

“Particularly given concerns around sexual assault, we believe a well trained professional security force with sworn peace officers can play an important role in raising sensitivities to these issues,” Daniels explained.

But, also problematic for students is that the plan to switch from security guards to a cadre of sworn officers was announced without consulting them first.

“I’m really curious why the university did this, and what they’re goals are and what they think this will accomplish,” Kumar said.

Kumar is an anthropologist who teaches a course on the history of policing. A perspective that makes him wary of touting beefed up law enforcement as a surefire solution to crime.

“Statistics change for all sorts of complex reasons,  you have to be careful about making correlative conclusions,” he said.

Still, he notes the university also faces the challenge of assuaging the fears of prospective students reluctant to attend Hopkins due to the perception the campus is unsafe.

“Hopkins knows their biggest weakness in attracting students to Baltimore is safety,” Kumar said.

“I’ve talked to people in the administration and this is a major factor in terms of students not choosing Hopkins.”

To address student concerns Daniels says he and other university officials will be holding a series of town hall meetings to foster discussion.  Among the topics he hopes to confront are concerns that police are prone to target students of color and could engage in racial profiling.

“We know a system of racial bias and racial profiling is a serious issue in contemporary law enforcement, but we also know other universities have been able to create agencies that don’t succumb to these patterns of behaviors,”  Daniels said.

“This is a start of a conversation and not the end of one.”