Draft Bill for Hopkins Private Armed Police Force Already Drawing Backlash

On Tuesday, The Real News obtained a draft version of a bill that would grant John Hopkins an armed private police force. On Wednesday, Hopkins published the draft online and is accepting feedback.

Hopkins is Baltimore’s eminent educational and medical institution. Citing an alarming rise in armed violence near its campuses, the institution is seeking a private armed police force. Hopkins already employs an extensive private security force, but they lack the same power as law enforcement.

It failed at a similar effort last year, after prompting protest from students, community members and faculty who weren’t consulted before the bill was introduced, and feared the force would disportionately target African Americans, and would not be accountable to the community.

This time around Hopkins conducted more community outreach, and enlisted the support of the billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “When you have a city that has the murder rate that Baltimore has, I think it’s ridiculous to think that they shouldn’t be armed,” Bloomberg reportedly said. His recent gift to Hopkins of $1.8 billion is the reportedly the largest donation ever to an educational institution.

Even before the bill was released, students, faculty and community members raised several concerns, and this bill appears to seek to address them. The bill mandates the force “Promote community engagement, ensure timely investigation of all complaints, establish a university police accountability board that consists of students, faculty, staff & community.”

Another section reads the force must “Advance impartial and non-discriminatory policing to prevent profiling and implicit bias,” use alternatives to force, wear body cameras, and “build trust between victims of sexual assault and the police department.”

It would subject the force to the existing Civilian Review Board, but the CRB has been called a ‘toothless tiger’ and is trying to assert its independence from the city.

We reached out to Hopkins for a comment, but at the time of publication have not heard back.

The group Students Against Private Police told The Real News in a statement the bill fails to address their concerns. “The administration continues, as they have throughout this whole process, to be vague, to avoid transparency, and to make the bare minimum of gestures towards the dialogue residents and students have been trying to engage them in,” the statement reads. They group also says the bill “co-opts the language of accountability,” but does not demonstrate how Hopkins “will address any of these issues.”

State Senator Mary Washington, who represents the 43rd District, which includes some of the neighborhoods that would be patrolled by the proposed force, told The Real News the new bill also fails to address her concerns because “it remains a private police force with direct authority from the state.” She said she maintains her concerns the force will not be accountable to the communities in which it will operate. It amounts to a “a private occupying force,” she said.

She added that she continues to believe is there a better way to achieve these goals.

“This draft bill does not appear to address any of the concerns voiced by faculty, students or community members,” Zackary Sholem Berger, an Associate Professor at Hopkins School of Medicine, told The Real News. “It envisions a Hopkins police force exactly as accountable and citizen-governed as Baltimore’s police, that is, not at all.”

Berger added, “As a clinician, I also worry that this draft appears to allow Hopkins officers in healthcare settings without specifically saying they may not be armed.”

So far it is unclear who the bill’s sponsors will be.

A public hearing for an unfair labor practice charge against Johns Hopkins Hospital is scheduled for March 6, and Hopkins has drawn protest for a multi-million dollar contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

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Jaisal is currently the Democracy Initiative Manager at the Solutions Journalism Network and is a former TRNN host, producer, and reporter. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio News, Democracy Now! and The Indypendent. Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @jaisalnoor.