Johns Hopkins Halts Plans For Campus PD

School had pushed for own force amid Baltimore's 'surge in violent crime'

June 13, 2020

On Friday evening Johns Hopkins University (JHU) announced it will push back the creation of a private campus police force amid national unrest following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

In an online announcement, the school said it will delay the development of a campus police department for at least two years, "so that it may benefit from the national re-evaluation of policing in society brought about by the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police."

"We share the continued anguish and anger at the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, and the unjust loss of so many other Black lives," the university said in a statement signed by school president Ronald Daniels and other administrators. "Taking the immediate implementation of the JHPD off the table ... will allow us the time to improve our existing non-sworn campus safety and security operations through enhanced training, professional development, and oversight."

JHU moved to create a police force to deal with a "sustained surge in violent crime directly impacting our students," but the decision has faced protests from student activists dating back to 2019. Four JHU students and three Baltimore residents were arrested during those protests. In light of the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, students and faculty created a petition calling for JHU to abolish the creation of a police department.

"Law enforcement agencies across the nation have been unable to avoid the unjustifiable use of force and officer-involved assaults," the petition reads. "The unfortunate reality is that an unjustified shooting or killing involving a Hopkins officer is likely. A preventable tragedy will lead to deep pain across our University, damage our relationship with the city [of Baltimore], shatter our reputation as a global leader in education, and further jeopardize our financial stability."

The petition has garnered nearly 5,500 signatures and claims black and brown students, faculty, and staff at JHU are disproportionately targeted by the police and are threatened by the very existence of a police force. Universities across the country have faced similar demands to cut ties with local police departments and private campus security. JHU is not the first university to bow to the demands of anti-police activists. The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, for example, severed contracts with the Minneapolis Police Department in the wake of Floyd's death.

The creators of the petition did not respond to requests for comment.

Plans for the department began in 2018 after violent crime and armed robberies increased near campus and quickly won the support of Baltimore's Democratic mayor Catherine Pugh. The mayor—who has since been sentenced to prison on corruption charges—argued JHU's plan would free up city resources for the Baltimore Police Department and would keep police officers in high-crime neighborhoods.

JHU's decision, however, has not satisfied some activists on campus. Smitha Mahesh, who has helped to organize campus opposition, told the Washington Free Beacon the school should abolish law enforcement completely.

"Given the strong outcry and petitions by students, faculty, and Baltimore City as a whole, there is such a strong voice for the complete abolishment of the private police force. So why stop at pause?" Mahesh said. "The university should just get rid of it completely right now and denounce ever creating a police department."

A university spokesman declined to comment, instead directing the Free Beacon to Daniels's letter, which did not rule out abandoning the plan completely. According to JHU president Daniels, he wants the university to be part of the conversation regarding whether there is a role for sworn policing in the country.

"Many people see no role whatsoever for sworn policing in our country. Many others accept the necessity of some role for sworn policing but seek a fundamental and vigorous reimagination of how that role can be discharged equitably," Daniels wrote. "We want Johns Hopkins to be part of the conversation about what is possible for our city and country in rethinking the appropriate boundaries and responsibilities of policing."