Brooklyn Center policing overhaul could get vote within days

A man stands next to a collection of microphones.
Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott addresses the media during a press conference in April at the site where Daunte Wright was killed. City leaders say they could vote as soon as Saturday on a proposed overhaul of policing in the community.
Nicole Neri for MPR News file

City leaders in Brooklyn Center say they could vote as soon as this Saturday on a proposed overhaul of policing in the community. A month ago, a white officer in the Minneapolis suburb killed Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, sparking protests and unrest.

Over the weekend, Mayor Mike Elliott outlined a number of law enforcement changes he’d like to see. But some council members say the plan needs refinement before it can be implemented.

Among other things, Elliott wants to send unarmed mental health professionals, rather than police, to help people experiencing behavioral health crises. The mayor’s plan also calls for an "unarmed civilian traffic enforcement department” to handle nonmoving violations, such as expired license plates.

His proposal comes a month after officer Kim Potter shot and killed Daunte Wright after a traffic stop. Potter is heard shouting “Taser, Taser” as she fires her gun. She resigned and is charged with manslaughter.

At a council meeting Monday evening, Elliott said his plan is broad by design, and an implementation committee will work out the finer points.

“We want to make sure that we’re doing something here that is really going to help our community move forward, and so many ways set us on a path to being a leader in this,” Elliott said.

Elliott’s resolution is named in honor of Wright, and also for Kobe Dimock-Heisler, a 21-year-old man killed in 2019 by Brooklyn Center police as he was suffering a mental health crisis. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman declined to charge the officers.

During the public comment period, Dimock-Heisler’s mother Amity Dimock urged council members to pass the changes immediately.

“Stop with the excuses. My child is dead. He’s sitting in an urn on a table in my kitchen. It could have been prevented if measures were taken earlier,” Dimock said.

The council generally expressed support for the mayor’s plan. Council member April Graves said she likes it, but didn’t hear about it until the day before Elliott’s announcement. And she wasn’t ready to vote yet.

“I definitely want more information about this idea behind a civilian traffic enforcement department, what that would look like. Just because it’s kind of a newer idea in my mind that I haven’t learned that much about,” Graves said.

Brooklyn Center City Attorney Troy Gilchrist said he’s still analyzing Elliott’s resolution.

“What I have done so far hasn’t raised any major concerns like we’ve seen or heard in other neighboring communities where it’s running in conflict with the charter. I’m not seeing any of those jumping out at me, at least not significantly,” Gilchrist said.

David Thomas, a senior research fellow with the National Police Foundation, also teaches at Florida Gulf Coast University. A police officer in Gainesville for 20 years, Thomas said his old department recently implemented a mental health responder program, which has seen success.

“I just saw some data where they avoided taking 269 people to jail,” Thomas said. “Because they have access to put them right into the system, to make recommendations for mental health services to route the people right where they need to go because they’re tied to community mental health.”

Thomas noted that in Gainesville, mental health professionals accompany police officers on calls. In Brooklyn Center, Mayor Elliott hopes to follow the model of Eugene, Ore., where, for more than 30 years, two-person teams of medics and crisis workers have responded to a range of behavioral health-related incidents.

Any community in the country can implement such a mental health response system, but Thomas said setting up civilian traffic enforcement is a much bigger challenge.

“You’re asking unarmed civilians to approach a car, and you have no idea what’s in that car or who’s driving that car.”

Thomas said such a proposal would conflict with state law. In Minnesota, only a licensed peace officer may initiate a traffic stop. 

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