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Brooklyn Center passes $1.3 million in new public safety initiatives, freezes 3 police vacancies


Brooklyn Center passes $1.3 million in new public safety initiatives, freezes 3 police vacancies

Dec 07, 2021 | 8:22 am ET
By Max Nesterak
Brooklyn Center passes $1.3 million in new public safety initiatives, freezes 3 police vacancies
Protesters gather for a candlelit vigil on April 12, 2021 near where Daunte Wright was killed by police in Brooklyn Center. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

After three hours of heated debate occasionally interrupted by Zoom bombers and questions from city council members on Robert’s Rules of Order, Brooklyn Center leaders unanimously approved a budget on Monday that freezes three vacant police officer positions to help pay for $1.3 million in new public safety initiatives.

The vote comes just 36 hours before opening statements are scheduled to begin in the manslaughter trial of former officer Kimberly Potter, who shot and killed Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop in April.

Wright’s death loomed large over the monthslong budgeting process, with city leaders facing pressure to make good on a resolution they passed in May that included creating a new Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention to oversee police, firefighters and new unarmed civilian units to respond to mental health crises and enforce non-moving traffic violations.

The proposals in the resolution, called the Daunte Wright and Kobe Dimock-Heisler Community Safety and Violence Prevention Act, largely failed to get off the ground for lack of funding, except for a change to the police department’s citation policy that the police chief called a political ruse.

City Manager Reggie Edwards, whom the mayor appointed to replace the manager he fired the day after Wright’s death, proposed spending some $654,000 over the next two years to pilot non-police response units, with the majority of funding coming from grants.

But that proposal fell short for Mayor Mike Elliott, who introduced an amendment last Monday to leave all 14 vacant police positions open, roughly 30% of the city’s budgeted force.

The proposal was apparently drafted with two outside advocacy groups — the Baltimore-based Law Enforcement Action Partnership and Twin Cities-based Communities United Against Police Brutality. It nearly upended the budgeting process and sent city staff scrambling to draft a compromise that could pass the city council in time to comply with state law.

That compromise, ultimately approved by city leaders, funds the $366,957 difference between the city manager’s proposed budget and the alternative proposal put forward by the mayor.

Freezing three officer positions will save the city $303,114 while the city expects to bring in an additional $52,500 through an increase in its lodging tax as well as $11,343 in other vacancy savings. A signification portion of the initiatives — $725,000 — will be paid for with grants, meaning funding for the public safety alternatives are not guaranteed even in the short term.

The details must still be filled in, but broadly, the $1.3 million directed toward public safety initiatives will fund piloting a unit to respond to mental health calls, a civilian unit to handle non-moving traffic violations and new youth and community programming aimed at violence prevention.

At one point, agreement over the compromise faltered over a bureaucratic detail: whether the head of the new community safety department would be called a director or a coordinator.

The city manager argued the position must be called a coordinator to avoid pay equity issues and confusion over organizational structure. The mayor, wanting the new department leader to be in charge of the police chief and fire chief, accused the city manager he appointed just seven months ago of “subverting” systemic change.

Edwards rejected the accusation: “The notion of subverting, Mr. Mayor, I would never do that. I didn’t apply and take on the work of Brooklyn Center to subvert work… I’m using all the knowledge and skills and capability that I have … to be able to move for change and address issues of systemic racism.”

Council Member April Graves defended the city manager, saying he’s done an “amazing job.” She said residents of Brooklyn Center didn’t demand a specific organizational structure during listening sessions in the wake of Wright’s killing, and the city manager’s compromise budget would start to create the transformational change city leaders promised.

“In those listening sessions, I don’t remember people being like, you need to create a Department of Public Safety and you must have a director,” Graves told the mayor. “I don’t think that there was an outline structure … Your resolution was an attempt to do that. And the city manager’s budget is his best attempt with his expertise to move us forward on that trajectory.”

But deviations from the resolution passed in May also invited backlash from activists including Wright’s mother, Katie Wright.

“I have contemplated … to ask for my son’s name to be taken off this resolution,” Katie Wright said. “I don’t want my son’s name on a resolution that is not going to be effective, that is going to cause so much (adversity) in the community.”