Since the end of last session, I have done a great deal of thinking and research on the role of policing and the issue of public safety in and around our K-8 schools and our colleges and universities. And like many challenges, there are not easy or quick answers, but there are policies that we know have failed, and move us farther away from creating the type of City or State we want to live in, and simply furthers the “town/gown” and “haves/have-nots” racial and economic disparities that plague our current systems of education, healthcare, transportation, housing and criminal justice.
As a Hopkins Alumnae, former community association president, Delegate and as the Senator-elect from the one of the legislative districts most directly impacted, allow me to be perfectly clear. I am strongly and unconditionally opposed to any proposal that would allow Johns Hopkins University to wholly own and operate a private police force.
I say this fully aware that Baltimore’s residents, workers, students and visitors are increasingly fearful of violent crime that is occurring in our city, and I get that we’re all looking for new ideas for addressing the crisis. And so I applaud the Senate President, Thomas ‘Mike’ Miller’s, willingness to work with our Mayor and welcome his support of our City during these challenging times. I also share his sense of urgency. We must however, fully consider not only the expressed short-term solution but also long lasting, and unintended consequences of awarding a single, powerful, well-funded institutional private actor with national and global reach the same powers afforded local counties and municipalities in the area of law enforcement and the advancement of its own economic interests.
I have not seen a draft of any bill, but it is my understanding by attending multiple listening sessions, that this proposal would provide a small segment of our community with an additional layer of police protection that isn’t available to those communities or businesses without the resources or political influence to secure their own.
Comparing Hopkins to Morgan State University and University of Maryland is simply wrong. These institutions are publicly funded, governed and accountable to the citizens and the public interests, not corporate boards of trustees and powerful donors as would be the case here. I am concerned that if we fundamentally discharge the City and State’s policing powers and responsibility under Maryland law for Hopkins in this way, it would be a first and it would be precedent setting. It is irresponsible to expect that they would be the last. So, who is next Under Armor, Amazon, a neighborhood association in my district?
Additionally, I am greatly concerned that as proposed this final solution would also invest extraordinary powers – including the ability to execute search warrants and to arrest and detain suspects – in a private corporation that would be allowed to operate without public accountability or oversight. This, at a time when we’ve all witnessed, firsthand, the devastating results of unchecked police power in our most vulnerable communities-communities like those surrounding Hopkins Hospital.
I am also very concerned that once again, as we have seen with other promises of additional resources, that these privately owned and operated police forces would simply in the short run, supplant, not supplement police presences in the affected communities. That without fixing the existing BCPD, their presence will decline and in the face of that decline the priority will be Hopkins “affiliates” and “foot print.” Moreover, without addressing the lack of trust in law enforcement and the socio-economic and behavioral health factors associated with violent crime, simply adding more guns and police will not produce an equitable transformation in the quality of life in these neighborhoods, nor make sustainable change in public safety that the full Hopkins community needs and deserves.
Those who know me can attest that I value compromise and always try to seek consensus. However, on this fundamental matter of equality and social justice, I will not hesitate for a second to go to the mat and demand that we do better than the current proposal. I look forward to working with my neighbors and constituents, and colleagues in the House and Senate over the course of the session and the year ahead to get it right.
*Senator-elect Dr. Mary Washington represents the 43rd District for Baltimore City in the Maryland General Assembly, which is the district that encompasses the Homewood Campus of Johns Hopkins University – which is the proposed site for any armed officers.