Brooklyn Center council approves compromise public safety budget

A vigil and march in honor of Daunte Wright
People hold portraits of Daunte Wright during a march on May 2 in Brooklyn Center, Minn. It was the three-week anniversary of the day Wright was fatally shot by a Brooklyn Center police officer during a traffic stop.
Kerem Yücel for MPR News

The city of Brooklyn Center is making changes in its approach to public safety in the wake of the killing by a police officer of Daunte Wright. But a compromise preserved more of the Police Department.

The suburb northwest of Minneapolis is establishing several new public safety programs that are aimed at reducing negative interactions with police in the course of low-level traffic stops and to better respond to people in mental health crises.

The City Council approved a 2022 budget resolution Monday to give around $1 million to support new public safety programs starting next year. The full cost would have been $1.3 million.

Last May, the Brooklyn Center City Council approved a resolution to pursue several police reform measures, a month after former Brooklyn Center Police officer Kimberly Potter shot and killed Wright during a traffic stop.

Opening statements in Potter’s trial are set to begin this week.

The new department of community safety and violence prevention includes a unit that would respond to mental health calls, an unarmed traffic enforcement unit and a community programming element aimed at reducing crime.

“This is really challenging work, to reimagine public safety and to do it in a way that brings about transformative change,” said Mayor Mike Elliott. “The funds that we have set aside are going to move us in an important and clear direction to realizing that transformation. It is, however, only a step. There is a lot more to be done.”

How the new initiatives will be paid for has evolved. An initial funding proposal in November would have moved funds for 14 open police department positions to instead pay for the public safety changes, but some argued that it would gut an already short-staffed police department.

The council met again last week to find a compromise. That compromise cleared the five-member council unanimously Monday night.

Instead of reallocating money from the 14 open police department positions, the council approved freezing three currently vacant police positions. The city will use other funding mechanisms, like an increase in lodging taxes and grants, to help pay for the public safety changes at least in the near term.

Elliott says the city still needs to find funding to be able to have mental health responders available around the clock.

There is some question still about how this will all look and function. There were questions during the council’s budget hearing about the power that would be given to the director of these programs, and even what that person’s title will be, which some argue could derail transformation of policing.

Katie Wright, the mother of the 20-year-old, said she isn’t sure if these programs are set up to do what she hoped they would.

”I don’t want my son’s name on a resolution that is not going to be effective,” Wright said.

Several council members said that the budgeting process is just allocating funds, not dictating how the program will run. Council member Marquita Butler said there is flexibility going forward in how the programs will operate.

“We just need to be clear that the funds are in the budget and then we can discuss when that time comes how we move forward in terms of if we need a department or director of whatever it is,” Butler said.

The city’s assistant finance director Andrew Splinter said overall, the city expects to cut property taxes by $24 a year for a median value home. He said 62 percent of properties will see their tax liability decrease.

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