In Maryland, the state legislature recently granted Johns Hopkins University the power to create a private police force with the ability to control their campuses and other school facilities. The measure requires final approval from the Governor, but he’s already gone on record in support of the bill. This has apparently upset some of the residents living around those campus properties and a group of them have organized a petition drive to prevent the law from going into effect. These are the “Women Against Private Police.” (Baltimore Sun)

A group of Baltimore residents who live near Johns Hopkins campuses have filed formal paperwork to launch a petition drive to put the creation of an armed Hopkins police force on the 2020 ballot to let voters decide.

The organization “Women Against Private Police” formed a ballot issue committee Wednesday to fight the creation of the Johns Hopkins police force that was recently authorized by both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly.

The legislation creating the force is awaiting the signature of Gov. Larry Hogan, who has said he supports the bill.

This petition drive may never get anywhere near the finish line, so the issue might wind up being moot. They need to collect almost 70,000 signatures in three months and they don’t have a lot of boots on the ground. And it would require them to dig up that many people from the affected communities who actually agree with them.

On that subject, what exactly is the complaint against establishing a campus police force? I’ve sifted through a few articles that include interviews with these women and they never seem to get down to any specific concerns. It’s all generalities about not wanting to “militarize” Johns Hopkins. I’m unsure what that even means.

You need to keep the schools safe and enforce the law, no? (At least I’d hope we could all agree on at least that much.) But the problem is that we simply don’t have enough cops. Large universities draw in big surges in population and the local law enforcement agencies don’t see a surge in their budgets to increase staffing and keep up. A system like this allows for other channels of funding to provide more police protection.

And it’s not as if we’re talking about some rogue militia force here. The laws vary from state to state, but campus police forces are pretty much the same as regular police, though most have restrictions on where they can patrol and which laws they enforce. (There’s a good article at FindLaw from 2012 that explains many of these distinctions.) If the school was hiring private armed guards like mall cops, perhaps I could understand the complaint, but that’s simply not the case here.

Maryland’s system seems fairly basic and supportable in this regard. People aren’t allowed to just hire their own army of private guards and send them out on the streets to enforce the law. Requests have to be approved by the state government, demonstrate available funding and comply with applicable laws. And the campus police will remain almost entirely on property controlled by Johns Hopkins. The opposition to more uniformed officers out on the beat keeping you safe is puzzling to say the least.