Brooklyn Center leaders divided over police budget as trial of former officer Kim Potter begins

By: - November 30, 2021 8:37 am

Police in riot gear stand guard outside the Brooklyn Center police station shortly after body camera footage was released of the fatal police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Around midnight on the night before the start of the manslaughter trial of former police officer Kim Potter, Brooklyn Center city leaders found themselves at an impasse over their police department’s budget and how to fund the reforms they’d agreed to make nearly seven months previously.

Mayor Mike Elliott proposed during a special city council meeting on Monday to move $1.2 million from the police budget to fund alternative public safety programs in what would be the first major changes to the police department since Potter killed Daunte Wright, an unarmed 20-year-old Black man, during an April traffic stop.

The proposal has the backing of police reform activists, including Wright’s mom.

“On the day before I go and look the murderer of my son in the eyes tomorrow … I’m asking you, please prevent this from happening to another family in Brooklyn Center,” Katie Wright said.

But the idea of reducing the number of budgeted officers in the department by nearly 30% in the suburban city of 30,000 drew outrage from members of the council as the city experiences a sharp uptick in violent crime.

“Let’s be honest. If we are going to take $1.3 million away from the police budget, how can we look the citizens of Brooklyn Center in the eye and say we’re not defunding the police?” said Council Member Dan Ryan.

The meeting started nearly an hour late as city staffers upgraded the city’s Zoom video conferencing account to allow more than 100 people to join the meeting. Over the next five hours, the meeting at times devolved into chaos and obscenities, forcing the city clerk to mute everyone so the meeting could resume.

At one point, the head of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, Brian Peters, interrupted the head of CAIR-MN, Jaylani Hussein, for getting to speak twice which resulted in numerous people shouting over him and Hussein accusing Peters of “leading a white mob” against him.

In approving a new budget at the start of Potter’s trial, city leaders face renewed pressure to make good on a resolution they passed nearly seven months ago.

In May, the council passed a resolution promising sweeping changes to the police department, including creating unarmed civilian units to respond to mental health crises and enforce non-moving traffic violations.

The resolution, called the Daunte Wright and Kobe Dimock-Heisler Community Safety and Violence Prevention Act, was named for Wright and a 21-year-old Black man with autism who was shot and killed by two Brooklyn Center police officers in 2019 during an apparent mental health crisis.

But without sufficient funding, the plans laid out in the resolution never got off the ground, except for a change to the police department’s citation policy.

In September, the mayor announced that police would only be able to issue citations — not make arrests — during misdemeanor traffic stops like the April 11 stop that led to Wright’s killing. But the new policy didn’t substantially change how traffic stops are handled in the city, according to Brooklyn Center’s interim police chief, who said a similar policy was already in effect.

The resolution would restructure the police department and other emergency response departments under a new Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention, similar to the proposal voters in Minneapolis rejected in November.

The city budget proposed by City Manager Reggie Edwards would fund piloting non-police response units at $654,850 a year for the next two years, largely through grants.

Elliott saw an opportunity to move even quicker by not filling the slew of open positions on the force and redirecting some of the $1.3 million in salaries toward alternative responses and violence prevention programs.

The move would amount to a significant shift in resources for a police department with a roughly $10 million annual budget and 49 officers when fully staffed.

Council Member Marquita Butler argued that the police department can expect to be short-staffed in the coming year regardless of the resolution since it can take more than six months to recruit and train new officers.

But some on the council accused the mayor of manipulating the council by bringing forward a proposal so late in the budgeting process and relying on outside advocates while ignoring the budget proposal from the city manager that funds alternative response pilot programs.

“The budget that has been prepared by our city manager, that we’ve worked on all summer, are we dismissing that and accepting a budget that was written by someone from outside our city a week ago?” said Council Member Kris Lawrence-Anderson.

To the surprise of some on the council, the mayor invited representatives from the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, a Baltimore-based advocacy group, to present their research to city leaders on Monday evening and make the case for investing in unarmed civilian response teams to handle mental health crises and other non-violent calls.

Michelle Gross, founder of the local advocacy group Communities United Against Police Brutality, was also given time to present to her estimates of how much non-police response units would cost and how much the city might save by leaning on Hennepin County’s mental crisis response team.

Council Member April Graves said the council can meet in the middle to reconcile the diverging proposals from the mayor and the city manager.

“I feel frustrated that so many people have spoken as if we don’t fund it the way the mayor says that means we’re not funding the resolution,” she said. “We can fill some positions in the police department. And we can provide some more funding to some of these alternative responses that we are working on already.”

The city council will resume discussion of the budget on Thursday.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.