A significant number of Baltimore City residents and their politicians are fighting a pitched battle to prevent Johns Hopkins University and Hospital from gaining approval from the Maryland General Assembly to establish its own police department. Former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg described resistance to the proposed campus police department as “ridiculous.”
To a relative outsider like Mr. Bloomberg, the concept of a declining city waging war on its largest private employer and last remaining institution of national prominence is unfathomable. Then again, an outsider can’t be expected to appreciate the penchant of Baltimoreans for self-defeating behavior.
Mr. Bloomberg, who graduated from Johns Hopkins and recently gave it $1.8 billion, was right; the idea that Hopkins should not have its own police department is ridiculous. But it’s not only ridiculous. It is perilous to the future well-being of Hopkins and the city.
The opposition to the Hopkins police department results from the confluence of two powerful social forces in the city: Historical grievances against Hopkins, and general anti-police sentiment fueled by experiences with the corrupt and ineffective Baltimore Police Department. Neither justifies rejection of Hopkins’ proposal, and it is time to underscore just how ludicrous and wrong-headed the opposition is.
Hardly a novel idea
Listening to the debate one might conclude that Hopkins’ request for its own police department is a revolutionary idea. Nothing could be further from the truth. The following is a partial list of private universities with their own police departments:
Boston College, Boston University, Brandeis, Brigham Young, Brown, Carnegie Mellon, Case Western, Duke University, Emory, Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard, Marquette, MIT, Northeastern, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Princeton, Rice, Southern Methodist, Stanford, Syracuse, Texas Christian, Tuskegee, University of Chicago, University of Miami, University of Detroit Mercy, University of Pennsylvania, University of Richmond, University of Southern California, Vanderbilt and Yale.
All of the above universities have police or public safety departments that employ armed police officers with full law enforcement powers on campus. Not all departments have jurisdiction over contiguous areas off campus, but many that serve urban universities do, including Boston University, Northwestern, Rice, Southern Methodist, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania and University of Detroit Mercy.
What a shock that in the deadliest city in the country Hopkins would want to join its peers by having its own police force. Not one concrete reason to oppose the idea has been put forward.
Turning on its biggest job generator
The construction cranes on the Baltimore skyline belie the grimmer picture painted by a recent study of the city’s economy by the Urban Institute.
Baltimore’s poverty rate of 23.1 percent is roughly double the national average of 12.7 percent. The economy is overly dependent on a large social services sector. Investment lags far behind in poorer African-American neighborhoods already struggling with guns, gangs, drugs and underperforming public schools.
The city continues to hemorrhage people and is now the nation’s 30th largest city by population, down from 7th in 1970. Its last Fortune 500 company left in 2012, making Baltimore the largest city without one. It’s premier sporting event, the Preakness Stakes, is likely to leave town and its symphony orchestra is being downgraded to part time. Not everything is coming up roses lately in Baltimore.
More than anything else, Baltimore needs decent-paying jobs. Hopkins is by far the city’s largest private employer, with the university and hospital providing jobs for about 45,000 people. Hopkins quest to make its east Baltimore medical campus a life-sciences hub may be the last best hope in the city for creating the type of “advanced” manufacturing jobs that so far have proved elusive. If the city and environs are going to attract biomedical manufacturing, Hopkins will be the reason.
So, it’s only natural, right, that the city would pick a needless fight with Hopkins? As counter-productive as such behavior is, there are reasons for it.
A strained relationship
Baltimore industrialist Johns Hopkins and the institutions he founded played a significant role in the structural racism and “ethnic rotation” of neighborhoods that still plague Baltimore. As described by former Baltimore Sun reporter Antero Pietila in his new book, “The Ghosts of Johns Hopkins,” the relationship between Johns Hopkins Hospital and its neighbors in east Baltimore has been especially fraught.
The list of grievances, real and imagined, is a long one. There are, however, unmistakable signs of improvement in the relationship. The East Baltimore Development Initiative finally is beginning to fulfill its promise of building affordable houses to replace the blighted ones that were razed. The recent decision by Hopkins to retain the old Marine Hospital building pleases neighbors who didn’t want an out-of-scale edifice built on the site.
The point is that Baltimore is a city in crisis that cannot afford to dwell in the past. Historical grievances should not be forgotten and need not be forgiven. But stopping Hopkins from doing what it needs to do to protect its campuses as a means of punishing Hopkins for past sins would be tantamount to the city cutting off its nose to spite its face.
A dangerous fallacy
No city needs policing more but wants it less than Baltimore. There has been organized and vocal opposition to a Hopkins police department from the woke left. “Wokeness” in Baltimore has a particularly strong anti-police quality, not surprising given the problems with the Baltimore Police Department. An ideology that casts criminals solely as the victims of systemic racism and oppression, however, offers no practical near-term solutions to violent crime.
The following tweet from a Harvard-educated member of Baltimore’s woke-left cognoscenti illustrates the dilemma: “Police-based solutions to violence betray a desire to shift violence to different people rather than stem it.” In other words, support for a Hopkins police department is not only wrong, it is morally wrong. That sentiment not only is nonsense, it is dangerous nonsense.
Baltimore is dying a death by a thousand cuts from violent crime. The insidious damage goes well beyond the death toll. A recent study by Johns Hopkins — who else? — indicates that Baltimore’s crime even contributes to the high truancy rates in city schools.
Violent crime is draining the life from the city, and does anyone with a modicum of common sense believe that policing is not part of the solution?
Yes, Hopkins is perceived as a bastion of white privilege, and the notion of Hopkins employing its own police officers whips the woke left into a frenzy. Conspicuously absent from that vociferous resistance, however, is a realistic plan to protect Hopkins and the city from the ravages of an epidemic of violent crime now in its fifth year.
Time for leadership and courage
The senators and delegates who represent the residents of Baltimore in the General Assembly should keep one thing in mind: It is the city, as much as Hopkins, that can ill afford to have Hopkins lose its competitive edge because it no longer can attract the best and brightest students, scientists, doctors and nurses. Or if patients no longer are willing to travel from around the country and the world to its hospital. Crime and fear of crime can erode the reputation of Hopkins as it has eroded the reputation of Baltimore.
I know that the senators and delegates have the woke left and other activists in their ears urging them to “stand up” to Hopkins. Conversely, it is the senators and delegates who need to stand up to those who seem to have explanations for all of Baltimore’s problems, but answers to none.
Hopkins is too precious an asset to the city to place it at risk because of things that happened in the past or because of ideologues who can’t accept society’s need for police officers.
[Published as guest commentary by Maryland Matters on February 21, 2019 but not posted to my blog until April 14, 2019. The date of posting that appears above was backdated to place all posts in the order in which they were written.]