Johns Hopkins profs: Police would 'amplify the climate of fear'

More than 60 faculty members at Johns Hopkins University have signed an open letter denouncing a bill that would form a campus police department.

Maryland SB 0739 / HB 1094, entitled the Community Safety and Strengthening Act, would “authoriz[e] the Johns Hopkins University to establish a police department,” The Baltimore Sun reported. Hearings are scheduled in the state House and Senate on Friday.

Other Baltimore, Md. schools that already have their own campus police include Morgan State University, Coppin State University, the University of Baltimore and the University of Maryland, Baltimore, according to the Baltimore Sun.

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Signatories of the open letter claim that a “private police force” on campus would be “undemocratic” and would give the university the appearance of an “antagonistic relation with nonwhite and economically precarious Baltimore City.”

The JHU faculty members also claim that campus police would “[subscribe] in its enforcement policies to the logic of racial profiling,” and that they would “decrease public safety, endanger our own students, and increase risk” by “introduc[ing] dangerous firearms.”

“Once in place,” the letter continues, “police administrations will inevitably amplify the climate of fear and justify their roles by citing stops, arrests, and detainments.”

“Black and brown students and Baltimoreans are already disproportionately targeted,” they conclude, quoting a statement from JHU’s Students Against Private Police group. “Private police on campus are likely to exacerbate racial profiling, with even more dangerous and potentially fatal consequences.”

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JHU maintains it needs a campus police presence due to an increase in violent crime in Baltimore. Homicides have totaled above 300 each year for four years in a row, aggravated assaults almost doubled from 50 in 2014 to 98 in 2018, and robberies soared from 45 to 97 in the same period, according to the Baltimore Sun.

“We believe strongly that university police departments can and do make a meaningful contribution to public safety in Baltimore, and we at Johns Hopkins want to do our part,” JHU spokeswoman Karen Lancaster told Campus Reform

She provided this overview of public safety resources at nearby peer institutions.

Regarding the faculty open letter, Lancaster said that in light of the 4,500 faculty members and 15,000 students at JHU, the university expects “a variety of opinions on important issues, some expressed publicly and some expressed in meetings, correspondence, and online comments.”

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The reception of SB 0793 has been “quite positive,” she continued to Campus Reform, adding that “the bill addresses the concerns raised previously. We considered several options and have listened to and incorporated the input of many key stakeholders, including faculty and students.”