Brooklyn Center mayor unveils police reform plan

·5 min read

The mayor of Brooklyn Center will call for sweeping public safety reform in the wake of the police killing of Daunte Wright, with a proposal that would strengthen oversight of police while also sending unarmed civilians to respond to minor traffic violations and mental health calls.

A resolution to form a citizen committee to work toward those goals will be considered at a special City Council meeting late Saturday afternoon. It comes less than a month after Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was shot by Kimberly Potter, a white police officer who, according to law enforcement officials, mistook her gun for a Taser after making a traffic stop for expired tags.

"We've done hours of public testimony over the last few weeks and it's become very clear that our community has become ready for change," said Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott.

The proposal potentially could have changed the outcome of Wright's encounter with police, since it touches on how police conduct traffic stops and the way they should respond to the kind of non-felony warrant that led officers to attempt to arrest Wright.

The Brooklyn Center Police Department declined to comment, but one law enforcement official said the plan raises questions for him about cost and feasibility.

When it comes to unarmed civilians making traffic stops, for example, "What does that model look like?" asked Jeff Potts, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.

In a letter issued earlier this week, Brooklyn Center police union president Chuck Valleau said the officers are ready to talk. "Our union members are willing to participate in any forum, meeting, or discussion with our community that is permitted by our city administration to help improve our relationships with Brooklyn Center residents," Valleau wrote. He said Wright's death has been devastating for the community and for police.

The mayor's proposal should be seen as "an historic first step," said Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of CAIR-Minnesota.

"We never aspire for these things to be a silver bullet against police brutality, but there are measures that will reduce harm and do justice in ways that our communities can be valued and public safety can actually focus on doing less harm and not more harm," he said.

Civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong said it's right for the mayor to take "bold action steps in light of the recent and unecessary death of Daunte Wright at the hands of a Brooklyn Center police officer. If an unarmed traffic officer, for example, had approached Daunte's car he would still be alive."

Levy Armstrong said racial profiling is the larger problem when it comes to traffic stops, and will take more work to fix.

The City Council has held several listening sessions since Wright's April 11 death, and used those comments to guide the drafting of the public safety plan, Elliott said. The plan doesn't specify how it would meet its objectives — instead, it would create a committee of citizens and experts appointed by the mayor to hash out details on costs, job descriptions and how civilian oversight would work.

Elliott said he would like Brooklyn Center to adopt some of the reforms he's seen in other cities, including Denver, Austin, Tex., Oakland, Calif. and Eugene, Ore. An unarmed mental health group that works with Eugene police responds to thousands of nonviolent mental health calls.

"This could save lives," Elliott said.

The resolution is named after Wright and Kobe Dimock-Heisler, a 21-year-old man who was struggling with mental illness and was killed by Brooklyn Center police during a 2019 welfare check.

The plan calls for the creation of a "Community Response Department" to dispatch social workers and trained medical or mental health professionals rather than armed police officers for certain calls. It also creates an unarmed traffic enforcement department for non-moving traffic violations.

The Police Department would report to a new "Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention," and a committee that includes people who have been arrested or detained by the Brooklyn Center police would create a permanent civilian oversight board and conduct other reviews.

The plan also instructs police to only issue citations and not make arrests for any non-moving traffic infraction or non-felony warrant or offense.

The Brooklyn Center proposal mirrors conversations taking place at the state Legislature, where representatives have introduced police reform bills on oversight, the use of deadly force, and on limiting the types of traffic stops police can make, among other measures.

"There's been a lot of talk about 'Are there other ways to handle these mental health calls?' " said Potts, of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association. "Most chiefs are open to that idea."

The problem becomes finding people willing to step into a mental health crisis that has the potential to become violent.

"Crisis response folks are usually not willing or interested in going into the house until it's been deemed safe or the situation is at least calmed down," Potts said.

Law enforcement officials are looking at some of the same issues, he said — the chiefs of police association is developing a best practices guide based on how various departments respond to mental health crisis.

"I don't know that there's a single model in Minnesota that will be the way to do this," he said.

Matt McKinney • 612-673-7329