Brooklyn Center police must justify arrests for nonfelony offenses, city says

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. Elliott announced the first changes for police on Tuesday.
Nicole Neri for MPR News file

The city of Brooklyn Center introduced its first public safety changes Tuesday — part of a package of reforms the mayor announced following the police killing of Daunte Wright in the spring.

Effective immediately, the new citation policy aims to prevent traffic stops for minor infractions that could escalate.

Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott said that many deadly encounters between police and Black men could have been prevented with a better approach to public safety that he aims to lead.

The new policy will prohibit detaining people for low-level offenses like nonmoving traffic infractions and nonfelony warrants. There are exceptions for public safety. The city says the policy follows all current laws and will be tweaked over time to address any concerns that may arise.

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“Officers are required to utilize alternatives to arrests and custody to de-escalate situations,” Elliott said.

City Attorney Troy Gilchrist says one key point of the policy is that officers who do feel they need to make an arrest have to file a report about why.

“It is part of that data collection piece that can easily be reviewed and quantified as this goes forward and we gain experience,” Gilchrist said.

That’s not the only change coming. The mayor wants to create two new departments to respond to lower-level infractions and mental health calls which are separate from the police department.

They’re steps the mayor and City Council approved shortly after Wright’s death last April, which was followed by days of protest by hundreds of people outside the Police Department. The council hopes to have the public safety transformation completed by the one-year anniversary of the traffic stop.

Police officers stand guard on a roof as demonstrators gather
Police officers on the roof of the Brooklyn Center Police Department as demonstrators gather for a seventh day of protest on April 17.
Stephen Maturen | Getty Images file

Wright, 20, was pulled over for expired license tabs and for having an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror. Officers then tried to take him into custody for a warrant unrelated to the stop.

Body camera video released by the city shows Wright getting back into his vehicle, and then-officer Kim Potter shouting “Taser” three times, just before she fires her handgun, killing Wright.

Elliott insists changing how police work is moving relatively quickly for a suburb with a smaller police force than its much larger neighbor. In Minneapolis, voters will have a chance to decide in November whether to remove the Minneapolis Police Department from the city’s charter and replace it with a new Department of Public Safety.

Myrna Kragness-Kauth, who has lived in Brooklyn Center for 60 years, says she is concerned the changes backed by the mayor and City Council are moving too fast. Kragness-Kauth served as mayor from 1995 to 2006 and believes the city is less safe. She attended a recent community meeting where Mayor Elliott updated Brooklyn Center residents on his plans to hire more staff and generally move the work forward with the help of the community.

Daunte Wright
Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike speaks with mourners before funeral services for Daunte Wright in Minneapolis on April 22.
Julio Cortez | AP file

“They’re asking people to get involved in making the changes. They’re going to hire people,” Kragness-Kauth said. “Where is the money coming from? Us homeowners pay the taxes here, and we know our taxes are going to go up a lot.”

The mayor says he doesn’t yet have an estimate for the cost of the public safety overhaul and that the city is exploring fundraising avenues. The city currently spends around 40 percent of its budget on policing.

Even so, the Brooklyn Center Police Department lost a quarter of its sworn officers since Wright’s death. Elliott responds, “Departments all across the country are experiencing officers leaving.”

Police Shooting Death Of Young Black Man Near Minneapolis Sparks Protests
Law enforcement officers patrol an intersection near the Brooklyn Center Police Department on April 16, following the killing of Daunte Wright and subsequent protests.
Brandon Bell | Getty Images file

Jeff Potts, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, said many officers are reassessing their careers.

“It’s like the workforce issue that is going on in many industries — like how does my employer treat me? How supportive is my employer of me? And perhaps some are looking to find employment elsewhere because they feel they might have better or stronger support,” Potts said.

A recent Minnesota Department of Human Rights finding that the Brooklyn Center Police Department and Michaels Stores violated the state’s civil rights law adds urgency, Elliott said. The human rights department determined three officers used excessive force and discriminated against a Black teenager in 2019.