Brooklyn Center mayor proposes major public safety changes

A man stands next to a collection of microphones.
Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott addresses the media during a press conference on April 20 at the site where Daunte Wright was killed.
Nicole Neri for MPR News file

Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott is proposing major changes to public safety in the Twin Cities suburb, nearly a month after the fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop.

Elliott told residents at a meeting Saturday that his proposal would "add more tools to our toolbox to appropriately respond when members of our community are in grave need." And he urged city council members to act quickly to approve the measure.

Several council members expressed support for the resolution on Saturday, but the council did not vote on the proposal in part because one member had to leave early. The council may pick up the discussion at its regular Monday night meeting, or at another special meeting tentatively scheduled for next Saturday.

Among other proposals, Elliott's resolution would:

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  • Create an "unarmed Community Response Department (to respond) to all incidents where a city resident is primarily experiencing a medical, mental health, disability-related, or other behavioral or social need." The department would include "trained medical and mental health professionals, social workers, or other staff and volunteers," with dispatchers routing those calls to them.

  • Create an "unarmed civilian Traffic Enforcement Department (that) has the responsibility for enforcing all non-moving traffic violations in the City."

  • Create a Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention to oversee and coordinate operations of the police and fire departments, as well as the two new departments mentioned above.

  • Create a permanent Community Safety and Violence Prevention Committee, with a majority of members being residents "with direct experience or the close experience of immediate family members with being arrested, detained, or having other contact with Brooklyn Center police." Among other duties, the committee would be tasked with reviewing police response to protests following the shooting of Daunte Wright; reviewing any collective bargaining contract with police officers; and making recommendations for creating a new, separate civilian oversight committee.

  • Prohibit use of deadly force "in certain situations including firing upon moving vehicles, (and prohibit) certain uses of force or other policing tactics during First Amendment protests and assemblies. It calls for policies "requiring de-escalation (and) exhaustion of reasonable alternatives before using deadly force."

The resolution would create a committee to create policies and guidelines to make those reforms happen, with a directive to present recommendations to the City Council within 180 days.

And it would put in a place a "citation and summons" policy, requiring police officers to only issue citations — and prohibit arrests or consent searches — "for any non-moving traffic infraction, non-felony offense, or non-felony warrant" while new policies are being implemented.

Elliott's proposal is named in honor of Wright and also in honor of Kobe Dimock-Heisler, who was fatally shot by Brooklyn Center police officers in 2019 while in a mental health crisis. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman decided not to charge the two officers who shot Dimock-Heisler six times.

Kimberly Potter, the former Brooklyn Center police officer who killed Wright, faces a manslaughter charge. Prosecutors say she shouted “Taser” before firing her handgun.

Elliott joined community members Saturday in calling for quick action to approve the measure, noting the time it will take to implement the proposals. He said a vote on the initial proposal is just the beginning of a "path to change" — with more community discussion and City Council votes to come as plans are finalized and implemented.

"To get to the point where we can pass this resolution, we need to do it as if there was an emergency and people were at the PD protesting again — we need to have that level of urgency," he said. "This cannot afford to have the same process as every other item in our city."

Amity Dimock, mother of Kobe Dimock-Heisler, told council members and others at the meeting that "the time for police reform was yesterday. I'd say now, but no — it was yesterday."

Among the speakers at Saturday's meeting was Tom Thompson, a retired assistant police chief in Miamisburg, Ohio, who also oversaw a police department serving a health care system's facilities in that state. He spoke Saturday on behalf of Law Enforcement Action Partnership, a national nonprofit advocating for "best practice criminal justice reform."

He called the proposal in Brooklyn Center — specifically regarding alternate responders — "on the cutting edge" and "a courageous move forward."

But he also urged caution on at least one part of the proposal, questioning whether having unarmed civilians enforce minor traffic violations would involve them conducting traffic stops.

"That is one of the most dangerous situations for police officers... and I would really talk through that one," he said, to ensure both community responders and community members stayed safe.

Council member Marquita Butler expressed support for the resolution Saturday.

"These last three weeks haven't been easy on any of us, on our community," she told the audience. "But if we have the opportunity now to make a difference and try to lessen the trauma that our community continues to experience, to save another person's life, we have to do it."