Hopkins Hospital plans to overhaul its security force Officials say crime deters prospective university students

October 05, 1992|By Thomas W. Waldron and Michael James | Thomas W. Waldron and Michael James,Staff Writers

Stung by a series of violent and brazen campus crimes this year, Johns Hopkins Hospital has begun a total overhaul and expansion of its security force.

The overhaul, which includes hiring a new class of well-trained officers to supplement the current corps of guards, is the university's latest effort to keep the hospital reasonably safe in the midst of a crime-ridden neighborhood.

The stakes are high for campus officials, who say crime poses a serious threat to the hospital's world-class ranking.

"This is something we want to keep a watch on," said Dr. John D. Stobo, director of the department of medicine and chairman of a campus security committee. "It can have a crippling effect on our ability to get young people to come here, and that's our life's blood."

A survey of prospective students last year showed Baltimore's crime problems to be "a major consideration" in whether they come here, Dr. Stobo said.

"If we can't make our people feel safe, we won't be able to recruit young people," he said. "They'll be afraid to come here."

Earlier this year, the Hopkins community was stunned by the rape of a medical student and the kidnapping of a doctor.

Three weeks ago came the Saturday afternoon attack on a 36-year-old medical school professor in her office. A man entered her office, put a knife to her throat and robbed $12 from her purse.

The attacker then ordered the woman to lie face down on the floor with her hands behind her back. The victim refused, a violent struggled ensued and the woman was cut on the hands. The man fled and has not been arrested.

The attack outraged students and faculty and prompted one graduate student to circulate a poster calling for a one-day strike by students and faculty later this month to protest security problems.

"Over the course of the year, we've had several major problems," said the student, Shawn Burgess. "The impression we get is that most of these things could have been prevented with responsible university policies on security."

But many people who work there, including the professor who was slashed last month, have a realistic attitude about hospital safety.

"People who work here understand the risks in the neighborhood and they're willing to accept them," said the professor, who asked not to be named. "We don't walk around in a cloud of fear."

The Johns Hopkins medical campus in East Baltimore is its own little city, populated by an estimated 25,000 people who work or visit there every day.

The medical institutions, coupled with Hopkins' Homewood campus, are Baltimore's largest private employer.

The issue of security, always on the minds of Hopkins employees, exploded earlier this year. First, in February, a Hopkins professor was kidnapped in a hospital garage, nearly choked to death and locked in his car trunk for several hours. Then in April a 27-year-old medical student was abducted and raped near the hospital.

Hopkins officials promised action and pleaded for more help from police.

City police said they would increase patrols in the hospital area. But, those patrols "kind of faded out," soon after the incidents, said Maj. Alvin Winkler, head of the Police Department's Eastern District, which takes in part of the hospital area. "We didn't have the luxury of resources to keep people deployed in that manner."

Meanwhile, the university has moved slowly but steadily ahead with changes in its $7 million security effort.

University officials now admit that they need to make major changes in the security force, which has been a constant target of complaints from student and staff. They plan to hire a new force of guards who have gone through police-academy-style training to supplement the current security force. They also expect to increase from six to 10 the number of off-duty police officers they hire every day to provide high-profile patrols around the campus. Plans also call for hiring a new security "czar," perhaps with the title of vice president to coordinate all security issues.

Officials plan to add lighting to their garages and increase the frequency of shuttles between the hospital and distant satellite lots.

Earlier this year, Hopkins began distributing regular crime reports. And each month, employees take home with their paychecks a map showing where crimes happened in and around the hospital.

Several employees said the map was a welcome bit of candor from the university, which has been accused of glossing over security problems.

Ask just about any employee and you'll get a story about a crime -- from the professor who was accosted at gunpoint in his car but sped off through a red light to the professor who was robbed in a research building bathroom.

Hospital workers have learned to cope with the environment.

A number of employees have taken the initiative by placing their own combination locks on offices and storage areas, say tTC workers. And workers routinely go in groups to pick up lunch.

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