Protesters oppose plans for private, armed Johns Hopkins police force

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Protesters raise signs opposing plans to create a private, armed Johns Hopkins University police department. Photo by Adam DeRose.

Demonstrators opposed to the development of a private, armed Johns Hopkins University police department shut down an in-person town hall meeting Thursday that was scheduled to discuss details of plans for the police force.

The in-person meeting, planned for Shriver Hall on the Homewood Campus in North Baltimore, lasted about 10 minutes. Students, neighbors and activists clapped, stomped their feet, and chanted “No justice. No peace. No Hopkins police,” drowning out the introductory remarks of university officials.

“Regardless of what we say at the hearing, they’re going to implement it anyway, and so we want to make our voices actually heard, and to do that means having to speak a little louder and be a little more apparent,” said Meg Chow, a biomedical engineering alumna who joined protesters at her alma mater.

The forum was designed to cover a draft agreement between the new police force and the Baltimore Police Department released earlier this week.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was reached between the department and university. Presenting that agreement to the public is a required next step for the university as it pursues the development of a private police force.

Amid the protesters’ demonstration, presenters left the stage and officials announced the forum would move online.

Demonstrators remained inside for another half hour, later moving outside to the building’s steps before following University Vice President for Public Safety Branville Bard Jr. to the nearby campus security building.

“I believe that their opinions are important, and I believe the opinions of people we won’t hear from today because of this are also important,” said Erricka Bridgeford of the Baltimore Community Mediation Center.

Bridgeford was tapped to moderate the in-person event. A public session and breakout groups were planned. During the livestreamed town hall, she read aloud a handful of questions that had been emailed to the university during the intervening hour after officials announced the shift to virtual.

“There are people in Baltimore who want to see the MOU, they want to have it explained,” she said. “They want to hold JHU accountable to whatever is in it.

“A lot of those people also don’t want the police department to be here, but given that it’s going to be, they want it to be ethical, they want it to be constitutional. They want to make sure that it moves in integrity, and they want their voices heard in making sure that that happens.”

Demonstrators shut down a Thursday meeting scheduled to discuss details of plans for a private, armed Johns Hopkins University police force. Photo by Adam DeRose.

Abell resident Emil Volcheck lives on the 3000 block of Guilford Avenue, just a few blocks east of the Homewood Campus. He joined the in-person meeting at Shriver Hall, and later the virtual session, but his emailed question was not read aloud or answered.

“I don’t think they’re interested in discussing why they should be having a police department in the first place. They’ve assumed that and moved on to the question: how do we get the community to agree and support the MOU?”

Volcheck is active with his local neighborhood group, and he says the Abell Improvement Association voted to oppose the implementation of a Hopkins police force in the first place.

“I do not believe that more guns on the street make us safer,” he said. “I believe the unarmed security that we have currently in much of our neighborhood is a good deterrent. I’m afraid that having more guns means more people will get hurt.”

The forum is one of a series designed to explain and solicit feedback about the agreement between the university and the city’s police department. Officials said they expect the document to change based on feedback gathered at the events.

The MOU outlined that the new private police department would patrol university property within its Homewood, East Baltimore and Peabody campuses.

The “campus area” includes buildings owned, leased or operated by the university and the adjacent public property like streets, sidewalks and parking structures.

The new university department would serve as the “first responder” in those areas, but share authority with the Baltimore Police Department.

The university’s police would lead investigations on burglary, home invasion and car theft, but the city police would still lead more serious cases like homicide and sexual assault.

New Hopkins police officers will also be required to wear body cameras, according to the agreement.

Proponents of the planned police force decry rising crime in Baltimore as evidence more police are needed. The university hired Bard last summer to spearhead and develop the university’s police department.

Efforts to create the police force had been on hold for two years following the 2020 police killing of George Floyd and the “national re-evaluation of policing in society,” according to the university at the time.

That pause ended in June, and Hopkins again began pursuing the police department, despite continued opposition.

“We want to do this right. We don’t want to do it fast,” Bard said during livestreamed remarks. “We’re here to ensure that you get both constitutional policing but the services that you deserve from Public Safety at Hopkins.”

Another town hall is scheduled for the East Baltimore community on Thursday, Sept. 29 at 7 p.m at the Turner Auditorium at 720 Rutland Ave. A planned virtual town hall is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 30.

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