Three voters have filed a lawsuit to block the Baltimore Police Department from executing an agreement with the Johns Hopkins University that’s necessary for the research institution to develop a private, armed police force that would have the power to patrol certain areas and make arrests for some crimes.

Donald Gresham, Joan Floyd and Kushan Ratnayake filed the complaint seeking injunctive relief on Sept. 23 in Baltimore Circuit Court. They live near where the proposed Johns Hopkins Police Department would have jurisdiction.

Because voters are set on Nov. 8 to weigh in on a ballot question that would restore local control over the Baltimore Police Department, they assert that the law enforcement agency would deprive them of their ability to voice opposition to the plan to their elected officials if it greenlights the agreement.

“For the Police Department of Baltimore City — in the few days that remain before it comes under City control — to autonomously authorize the establishment and operation of a Johns Hopkins University Police Department within the City of Baltimore, would violate the will of Baltimore City voters and subject the Plaintiffs to an unprecedented, private law enforcement agency that is not the result of decision-making by elected officials of the City of Baltimore,” Gresham, Floyd and Ratnayake wrote in the complaint.

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The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill in 2019 that allows Johns Hopkins to form its own police department.

Branville Bard Jr., vice president for public safety at Hopkins, recently announced that the university would move forward with the proposal. Protesters came out and demonstrated at town halls about the plan.

Johns Hopkins currently employs more than 1,000 public safety officers who are unarmed and work across the school’s three campuses in Baltimore.

The Baltimore Police Department has functioned as a state agency since 1860, when lawmakers in Annapolis seized control of it. Though the mayor can develop a crime plan and hire a police commissioner, City Hall does not have the ability to fully regulate the department.

If the ballot question is successful, Baltimore would assume control over the department on Jan. 1, 2023.

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In an interview, Floyd noted that that Johns Hopkins Police Department would have the ability to operate on public sidewalks and streets in Baltimore.

“There are so many reasons why this thing shouldn’t happen,” Floyd said. “With every fiber of my being, I believe this is wrong.”

Gresham and Ratnayake could not immediately be reached.

Lindsey Eldridge, a spokesperson for the Baltimore Police Department, said in an email the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

In a statement, Megan Christin, a spokesperson for the Johns Hopkins University, said: “We are reviewing the complaint and generally do not comment on pending litigation, but we can say that the University is fully confident in the thoughtful statutory process the General Assembly set out for the development of the Johns Hopkins Police Department.”

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No hearing has been scheduled in the case, according to online court records.

dylan.segelbaum@thebaltimorebanner.com

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