Johns Hopkins University has released a long-awaited list of draft policies and procedures for its private police force that, once finalized, would serve as guidelines for officers’ interactions with the public.

The policies posted online Thursday afternoon are incomplete, with the department’s Chief Branville Bard Jr. promising more will be released in coming weeks. The available draft policies address a wide range of topics including de-escalation, use of force, professional ethics, and interactions with individuals including undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ+ people, and those experiencing behavioral health crises. They also include directives concerning police misconduct and civilian oversight, an issue that has long concerned some students, faculty and community members who live near Hopkins’ three campuses in the city.

Critics of the university’s plan say they oppose the creation of a private, armed police force that could patrol certain areas and make arrests for some crimes. Groups of students have staged fervent protests on campus and disrupted public meetings with concerns about the police department.

A Baltimore Banner investigation in 2022 found that violent crime within the borders of Hopkins’ three campuses either stayed flat or declined between 2018 and 2021. The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill in 2019 to allow the university to start its own police department.

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Since then, the university has made steady progress toward creating the police force, despite a public promise in June 2020 to halt the effort for two years amid nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck. The university hired Bard as vice president for public safety for Hopkins in 2021 before naming him as the department’s first chief earlier this year. Bard signed a memorandum of understanding with the Baltimore Police Department last December.

The private police department has advertised a number of job openings this year.

The draft policies published this week offer campus and surrounding communities the most comprehensive description to date of Johns Hopkins University Police Department operations.

For instance, directives mandate that officers shall not use deadly force except as a last resort, and that all officers have a duty to intervene if they witness another member of the department using excessive force. Arrest warrants can be served in classrooms, lecture halls, campus residences, workspaces or health care facilities, but must be approved by the Chief of Police and should only take place when the individual poses a danger.

Officers must activate body-worn cameras during service calls and encounters that are investigative in nature, but with some privacy exceptions, such as inside medical facilities or private residences. And officers are directed to contact the university’s Office of Institutional Equity Title IX coordinator with all reports of sexual misconduct.

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There’s guidance for how police are to interact with members of the LGBTQ+ community. There are strict rules against deadnaming or misgendering individuals as well as blocking them from using certain restrooms. And department media releases must refer to transgendered persons using their provided name and gender identity or, if unknown, use gender-neutral pronouns. Police should not disclose a minor’s gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation to their parent or guardian without their consent.

The policies state the department shall not play a role in civil immigration enforcement, a topic that arose in 2019 when some students and faculty staged a monthlong sit-in on campus in opposition to the university’s partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The university has since signed three more contracts with the Department of Homeland Security, two of which are active but set to expire by the end of the year.

In the event of a behavioral health crisis, a draft policy states the response shall generally be led by members of the university’s Behavioral Health Crisis Support Team. Police involvement will be limited to situations in which a person poses a threat of imminent physical harm to themselves or others.

Complaints about police, including anonymous ones, must be investigated by a public safety accountability unit within the Johns Hopkins Office of Internal Audits, which operates independently of public safety and police operations.

A statement posted on a website about the university’s police force touted the draft policies as representing “a comprehensively progressive approach to policing that prioritizes equity, transparency, accountability, and community-based public safety strategies.”

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The site states the policies were developed by independent experts from the nonprofit National Policing Institute and the consulting firm 21st Century Policing Solutions. The latter group is overseeing implementation of the Baltimore Police Department’s federal consent decree.

Each directive was reviewed by members of both organizations. Individuals and organizations “representing the diversity of the University community” also provided feedback on the draft, the statement said.

In crafting the policies, the website states, officials considered policies used by municipal police departments that have undergone substantial reform efforts, such as agencies in Baltimore, New Orleans, Seattle, Portland, Detroit and Ferguson, Missouri. Officials also reviewed best practices from social science research centers and civil rights organizations, as well as policies used by other higher education institutions, including UMBC, Morgan State and Towson University.

University leaders are inviting members of the public to submit feedback online on the policies, which can be done anonymously. The public comment period will end in 60 days on Nov. 20. The Johns Hopkins Accountability Board was also asked to share feedback in writing and during its public meetings, the next of which is scheduled for Oct. 26.

In the meantime, the university has pledged to host several “Ask the Expert” sessions to allow community members time to ask questions about the policies before submitting their feedback. The university has not yet announced dates, times or locations for the meetings.

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Lillian.Reed@thebaltimorebanner.com

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