The Johns Hopkins University on Friday evening released a memorandum of understanding between the university system and the Baltimore Police Department, a crucial step in the school’s years-long quest to field a private armed police department for its three city campuses.

The final document, signed by Police Commissioner Michael Harrison and Hopkins Vice President for Public Safety Branville Bard Jr., spells out how the BPD will work with private police force officers to respond to crimes on campus.

Its release comes after Hopkins presented an initial draft of the document for community feedback in September. Protesters opposing the private force disrupted two of Hopkins’ public meetings on the plan, citing concerns about accountability and over-policing of students of color and residents near campuses, as well as the boundaries of the force’s operations.

In a Friday evening email to the Hopkins community announcing the finalized agreement, Bard said the university will move into an implementation phase over the next six to 12 months that will include policy developments and the hiring and training of the force’s officers.

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“Through continued community dialogue and accountability, I am confident we can create a campus that is safer and at the same time welcoming to all,” he wrote, adding that Hopkins will continue to seek community feedback.

The university system had been seeking to create the private police force for years, when the already-controversial plan became even more contentious in the summer of 2020 amid expansive national protests following the murder of George Floyd by a police officer.

University President Ron Daniels put the plan on pause as conversations about reimagining public safety swept Baltimore and elsewhere. But he charged ahead with it this summer, even though the surge in campus crime that prompted the original plan has fallen, according to an analysis by The Baltimore Banner.

Now the university plans to hire about 100 officers to patrol its three campuses: the Homewood campus in North Baltimore, the Peabody Institute campus in midtown and the East Baltimore campus with a hospital and medical school.

The Baltimore Banner reached out to several student groups and faculty members, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Councilwoman Odette Ramos and Councilman Antonio Glover, whose districts include the three campuses, hosted community feedback events of their own. Ramos said Saturday that she did not receive a courtesy copy of the agreement ahead of its publication and was deeply disappointed it was signed. Glover did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The agreement “assumes that the only way to address crime is to place armed guards at the corners, rather than invest in preventing crime, which is investing in our neighborhoods and our youth,” Ramos said.

Policing boundaries

The agreement defined the Hopkins police department’s domain as any property that is owned, leased, or operated by, or under the control of the university, specifically: the Homewood Campus, which is bounded by West University Parkway and East University Parkway on the north, East 28th Street and West 28th Street on the south, Remington Avenue and the Stony Run stream on the west, and North Calvert Street on the east; the East Baltimore Campus, which is bounded by East Eager Street on the north, East Baltimore Street on the south, North Caroline Street on the west, and North Castle Street on the east; and the Peabody campus, which is bounded by West Madison Street and East Madison Street on the north, East Hamilton Street and West Hamilton Street on the south, Cathedral Street on the west, and Saint Paul Street on the east.

It said that police can also function on “the public property that is immediately adjacent to the campus,” including sidewalks, streets and other public rights-of-way.

Ramos criticized the document’s absence of a boundary map.

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“It is important for that map to be public and re-evaluated every time JHU purchases property in the campus area,” she said.

Accountability and training

One new section of the MOU, “Policies and Training Requirements,” said the private police force officers will receive yearly diversity, equity and inclusion training from the BPD’s Equity Office and Educational and Training Unit.

Hopkins will be responsible for ensuring that campus police abide by university policies, including “nationally recognized best practices for in-service training, policies, protocols, and accountability measures” for topics including de-escalation, use of force, fair and impartial policing, stops, searches and arrests.

Shared resources, separate finances and liabilities

Some changes in the published agreement expand shared resources between the two police departments, including shared access to body camera footage for the purposes of criminal investigations, though each agency will fund its own body camera costs.

The BPD will grant Hopkins police access to its surveillance cameras that are on or near the university boundaries. It will also grant the private force access to specialized equipment, such as barricades, remote lighting sources and the Emergency Services Unit as needed for crowd control and major events.

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Homicides and any crime where Hopkins requests support from the BPD’s Crime Lab will be handled by city police.

Another new section, “Limitation of Liability,” said that each agency would agree not to sue the other.

But city police officials can walk away from the agreement immediately, should a judge or government agency find that the university police force has engaged in a pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing — such as the behavior outlined in a 2016 Department of Justice report on the BPD.

Otherwise, either party can choose to terminate the agreement for any other reason with 30 days’ written notice, “including its own convenience.” The initial term of the MOU is through Dec. 2, 2029.

Community feedback

Hopkins also released a summary of community feedback received during the draft period that led to changes within the agreement.

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Adopted suggestions included subjecting the private force to the same public records laws as the BPD and specifying which entity is responsible for overseeing traffic violations.

The agreement was updated to show that the BPD will have primary responsibility in all pedestrian and car collisions resulting in death or serious bodily harm and that Hopkins police will conduct traffic enforcement efforts within campus boundaries in coordination with the BPD. Hopkins police must report all traffic enforcement statistics to the BPD, including traffic stop data.

One commenter, whose name was redacted from the document, identified themself as a Baltimorean of 25 years who has worked for the Kennedy Krieger Institute for 15 years.

“I firmly oppose the JHU forming an armed police unit. I walk to work every day and live just a mile from JH hospital. Adding armed forces will endanger employees and community members well as further harm relationships with underserved communities where Johns Hopkins resides,” they wrote. “As a resident I hope you put people first.”

Another unnamed writer who identified as an alum of the public health school and current resident of a neighborhood within the private police force boundaries said they were extremely disappointed in Hopkins’ “refusal to modify its stance in spite of community concerns about Hopkins policing.”

“The lack of evidence-based arguments for a private police force is striking — for an institution so committed to evidence-based policy and programs,” they wrote. “I will continue ignoring the university’s calls for donations as a result of the ways it has ignored student, staff, AND community opposition to its proposed MOU and force.”

Another unnamed commenter said they have worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital and lived in the East Baltimore community for more than six years.

“Our patients, families, neighbors and staff all deserve to feel safe coming to and from the hospital and our homes each day,” they wrote. “This is a long overdue step and welcome addition to our security teams.”

Another report, written by independent consulting firm 21CP Solutions, analyzed all 263 community feedback comments submitted to Hopkins from mid-September to mid-November, finding “the overwhelming majority of feedback received did not include specific, actionable recommendations relating to the MOU itself.”

Instead, the report said, most comments were on the creation of the police force in general and feedback about policy issues that are not part of the MOU development process. Many took the form of questions seeking clarification on topics like jurisdictional boundaries and accountability mechanisms.

When it came to the concept of the private police force alone, community members who reached out to Hopkins did not have uniformly stark opinions, the report said. While many participants suggested clear support for a private force, many others “indicated definitive opposition to the JHPD in any form,” the report said.

Over and over, one unidentified Hopkins student wrote, university leaders have emphasized how the police department “will be different from every other police department” and how officers will be trained to avoid the systemic problems pervasive among other departments.

“If every piece of press about the JHPD seems to downplay their role of acting as police officers, what is the point of even having them?” they wrote to officials.

This article may be updated.

Emily Sullivan covers Baltimore City Hall. She joined the Banner after three years at WYPR, where she won multiple awards for her radio stories on city politics and culture. She previously reported for NPR’s national airwaves, focusing on business news and breaking news.

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