Brooklyn Center passes sweeping police reform package

·4 min read

The Brooklyn Center City Council voted 4-1 Saturday to pass a package of sweeping reforms to its public safety system — what the city's mayor called "a new north star" for policing — one month after an officer fatally shot an unarmed man during a traffic stop.

The proposals will remake the city's police force with more independent oversight, prohibit arrests for low-level offenses and use unarmed civilians to handle minor traffic violations. The reforms also will make a new city department to oversee public safety.

"[It] will establish a new north star for our community, one that will keep all of us safe," said Mayor Mike Elliott, who introduced a version of the reforms last week. "It says that we, as your elected leaders, are committing ourselves. And that you can hold us accountable for achieving those goals."

Council Members Marquita Butler, April Graves and Dan Ryan joined Elliott in voting for the resolution. Council Member Kris Lawrence-Anderson was the sole no vote. She was not present but said over Zoom that the council hadn't taken enough time on the proposal.

The three-hour meeting included testimony from the families of Daunte Wright and Kobe Dimock-Heisler, two men who were killed by Brooklyn Center police and whose stories have pressured politicians into seeking changes.

"Thirty-four days ago, our son, on April 11th, was murdered," said Katie Wright, Daunte's mother. "I truly believe if this was implemented prior to April 11, our son would still be with us today."

Former Brooklyn Center officer Kimberly Potter has been charged with second-degree manslaughter in Wright's death. The killing ignited a week of sustained protests outside the police station and a backlash against minor traffic stops — or pretext stops — that disproportionately affect drivers of color.

Law enforcement officials have criticized Elliott's proposals, especially the idea of unarmed people making traffic stops. The mayor failed to consult the Law Enforcement Labor Services police union before introducing the reforms, said Jim Mortenson, executive director of the 6,400-member union. No police officers spoke publicly at the meeting Saturday.

The action will create a Community Safety and Violence Prevention office, which would oversee the city's police, fire and two new city departments: traffic enforcement and community response.

It also resolves to create a committee, which would include residents who have been detained by Brooklyn Center police, to review and make recommendations on such matters as police response to protests and the collective-bargaining agreement between the city and police.

The resolution will direct the city manager to implement a policy requiring officers to issue citations by mail, rather than arrests, for non-moving traffic infractions and non-felony offenses and warrants, unless required by law.

"It is time," said Butler. "We've been talking about these reforms for quite a while, more specifically since last June, after the death of George Floyd. And we didn't have as much urgency around it as we probably should have."

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar sent prepared remarks to the City Council supporting the reforms. "Let's get this done," she said in the remarks. "We owe it to Daunte."

Dozens of citizens spoke at the meeting. One resident said she was concerned about the rise in violence and that street crime that gave her reason to fear for her safety. She said she supports change, but not at the expense of police.

Another said she would like to be part of the oversight committee but feared her voice would not be welcome as a white conservative woman.

In one tense moment, a man said he didn't agree with having unarmed people pull over drivers. He then turned to Wright and said: "Your son was killed, not because of a traffic stop in my mind. But because he had warrants."

The crowd booed, drowning out his comments. "You're being disrespectful!" they shouted. A group moved the man away from the podium, and Elliott apologized to Wright on behalf of the man, who didn't give his name.

Several Black residents spoke about being racially profiled, or of turning on the news and seeing a story about a police officer shooting someone and fearing the victim was a family member.

"The changes we're talking about will take a while. And we have no more time to wait," said Amity Dimock, the mother of Dimock-Heisler. "Please, please — and we will work with you every step of the way — but please do this. Please vote yes."

Brooklyn Center officers shot Dimock-Heisler six times in 2019 after responding to a mental health call. Dimock-Heisler's grandfather called police after Dimock-Heisler, who had autism, had grabbed a knife, and he feared his grandson might hurt himself.

Dimock has been instrumental in convincing lawmakers to change laws at the Capitol, including mandating autism training for police officers across Minnesota. Dimock said she believed her son may be alive if the changes had been in place then.

Andy Mannix • 612-673-4036