Note: This letter originally appeared as an e-mail sent to the Hopkins community on August 23, 2022.
Dear Johns Hopkins community:
It has been a privilege to get to know so many of you during the last year and to hear your perspectives on public safety. I am heartened by your sincere willingness to engage with me and with my office as we work together to establish an inclusive and comprehensive approach to public safety that is rooted in our shared values of community partnership, transparency, and innovation. As we enter a new academic year, I would like to update you on what we have accomplished together and provide insight on the work yet to come, including steps toward implementation of the Johns Hopkins Police Department.
Progress Over the Last Year
Over this past year, we have devoted significant time to strengthening Johns Hopkins’ public safety organization across the university and health system. A key first step has been to improve our operations through better technology and training for our existing security officers, including crisis intervention training, gender identity awareness training, and trauma-informed training. We have also made important progress in piloting nontraditional approaches to reducing violence, such as the new JHU Behavioral Health Crisis Support Team, which pairs public safety officers with clinicians specially trained to support those members of our community who are experiencing personal crises.
Together with our community partners, we recently celebrated the completion of the first year of the $6 million Johns Hopkins University’s Innovation Fund for Community Safety, which supports community-led initiatives in Baltimore that address some of the root causes of violence. These partnerships seek to address housing insecurity, job training, education, community organizing, and more, with an eye toward making a meaningful, durable difference in the rates of violent crime within our community.
One additional element of our public safety strategy is the establishment of a small, progressive, community-focused, and highly accountable Johns Hopkins Police Department (JHPD).
Two years ago, Johns Hopkins paused the development of the JHPD so that we might benefit from policing reforms at the state level, which the General Assembly subsequently enacted. The pause also provided me with the opportunity to get to know the Johns Hopkins community as your new vice president for public safety and to better understand our needs.
Since the end of the pause in June, I’ve received a lot of questions about the JHPD. Some of those questions I will answer below with more details about plans for how the JHPD will operate and how you and your colleagues, friends, and neighbors can provide input and participate in ongoing dialogues around its development.
Importantly, even when fully implemented, the JHPD will be only one small element of our overall public safety approach, and we will continue to prioritize root cause prevention, innovative responses to behavioral health crises, and investments in community safety partnerships. The police department will be small in scope, with narrowly defined jurisdictional boundaries around our Homewood, East Baltimore, and Peabody campuses and no more than 100 personnel (out of a total safety organization of over 1,000 people).
The JHPD will allow us to eliminate our current heavy reliance on off-duty Baltimore City police officers, and it will be subject to multiple layers of public accountability and oversight, far more than other municipal or campus police departments in Maryland and across the nation. Among the oversight measures is the Johns Hopkins University Police Accountability Board.
We are currently planning to implement the JHPD only within our campus boundaries, as defined by state law, and anticipate that we will need to work throughout the coming academic year to develop detailed plans, share them with the community and the JH Accountability Board, and get started with hiring and training to our high standards.
Our focus in developing the JHPD is to do it right rather than do it fast, and there are several important steps and opportunities for your participation in shaping the JHPD long before the first officers will be on patrol.
Early next month, we will post a draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Johns Hopkins and the Baltimore Police Department on our public safety website for public and Baltimore City Council review and comment. Such agreements are the usual way that university police departments and city police departments put on paper their agreement and understandings around how they will work together to protect the area.
We will hold three town hall meetings for our community to learn more about the MOU and to answer any questions you may have about the JHPD:
All town halls will be livestreamed online at https://publicsafety.jhu.edu/updates-and-events/virtual-events/
In addition to these town halls, I will spend time throughout the fall meeting and talking with students, faculty, staff and neighbors to share updates about the JHPD and the MOU. I want to hear your feedback and ideas for how to make sure the JHPD meets our goal for being a model community-oriented, transparent, and constitutional public safety organization.
After the MOU process concludes, we will proceed gradually and thoughtfully in building the JHPD. This will include the recruitment and training of officers in accordance with our local hiring goals and requirements, as well as operational details and policies – all with the oversight and guidance of the JH Accountability Board.
In my first year here, I have heard clearly that members of our community want to be and feel safe, want to know that their voices are heard, and seek to have an impact in shaping the development of the JHPD and our entire public safety operation. Through continual community dialogue and accountability, I know we can create a campus that is safer and at the same time welcoming to all. That is my commitment, and I look forward to working together to make it a reality.
Branville Bard Jr.
Vice President for Public Safety
Johns Hopkins University and Medicine