In Debate Over Hopkins PD, It’s Time for the Gloves to Come Off.

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.]


Ensuring More Transparency in Maryland’s Judiciary.

Maryland Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera of the Maryland Court of Appeals delivered the quadrennial State of the Judiciary address earlier this month. She described the state of Maryland’s judiciary as “fundamentally sound.” Given the inexcusable dearth of information that is made available to measure the performance of Maryland judges, I guess we’ll just have to take her word for it.

Although perhaps not for much longer. Gov. Larry Hogan has asked the General Assembly to enact “The Judicial Transparency Act of 2019.” The bill would require the Maryland State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy (MSCCSP) to publish detailed information on the sentences handed down for violent crimes across the state, including the sentencing histories of individual judges. The proposal, now before the General Assembly in the form of HB 229 (cross-filed with SB 176), is a sound one and it is long overdue.

The Maryland judiciary’s own record on transparency and accountability is dismal. In commentary published by The Daily Record in 2017, I pointed out that the database maintained by the MSCCSP contains a wealth of information about criminal sentences. The database does not, however, allow members of the public to determine the extent to which individual judges adhere to the sentencing guidelines promulgated by the commission.

The names of the judicial circuits in which the judges serve are captured in the database, but not the names of the individual judges. That information is unavailable because the judges don’t want it made available. I urged the judges to change their minds; they didn’t, and now the General Assembly should do what the judiciary should have done itself.

Maryland judges appear allergic to any kind of assessment of their performances. Unlike many other states, Maryland has no formal program for evaluating the performances of judges. In 1998, a select committee of Maryland judges and lawyers recommended that the state adopt a mandatory evaluation program run by the Administrative Office of the Courts. The recommendation has never been adopted.

Circuit court judges run in contested elections and appellate judges run unopposed in “retention” elections. In neither situation do voters have much information on which to base their decisions. Combine the absence of performance evaluations with a lack of transparency and the impression is created of a judiciary not keen on the possibility of negative feedback.

Retired circuit court judge Steven Platt co-chaired the committee that recommended a mandatory evaluation program for judges in 1998. He stated in 2017 that he still believed such a program was needed. “We’d be better with it than without it. Judges should be as subject to as much criticism as anyone else.”

Judges and others opposed to transparency of the judicial system disagree with Judge Platt about criticism. They believe that criticism from the public, and judges’ fear of that criticism, will lead to a loss of judicial independence.

The argument that judges must be insulated from criticism is troubling. In the case of the sentencing guidelines, for example, it means that a judge who consistently deviates from the guidelines does not get identified. Whose interests does that serve, other than the interests of the judge who wishes to avoid scrutiny?

And keeping citizens in the dark implies that citizens cannot be trusted to act responsibly with information about how judges do their jobs – a concept entirely unacceptable in a representative democracy. A lack of transparency does nothing more than fuel the worst fears of the public about the administration of justice.

If for some unfortunate reason HB 229 fails to pass, there remains something that Gov. Hogan can do. Based on the ages of the judges and the mandatory retirement age, it looks like he will get to replace five of the seven judges on the Court of Appeals, including the chief judge.

He can ask applicants for those judgeships if they support full transparency of judicial performance; it is an entirely apolitical and appropriate question. If an applicant does not support transparency, there are plenty of qualified candidates who do. And maybe when Judge Barbera’s successor gives the next State of the Judiciary address, we will have more to go on about the soundness of the judiciary than just his or her word.

[Published as guest commentary by Maryland Matters on February 12, 2019 but not posted to my blog until April 13, 2019. The date of posting that appears above was backdated to place all posts in the order in which they were written.]