The Potluck

Brooklyn Center police chief says new citation policy is a ruse  

By: - October 14, 2021 6:00 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.

The interim Brooklyn Center police chief disparaged a recent announcement by the city’s mayor about changes to policing in the embattled suburban city. In an email to police employees, Chief Tony Gruenig said police didn’t play an active role in crafting the new citations and summons policy and already follow such a policy “in spirit.”

“This effort isn’t needed,” he said in the email obtained by the Reformer. “It’s possible that some exaggerations or some inaccuracies might be made during this (press) conference.”

Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott announced a new citation and summons policy on Sept. 28. He said police officers can only issue citations — not make arrests — during misdemeanor traffic stops like the April 11 stop that resulted in former police officer Kimberly Potter shooting and killing Daunte Wright, an unarmed, 20-year-old Black man. The suburb north of Minneapolis saw days of protests after the shooting, in which Potter said she mistook her Taser for her gun.

As the Reformer and other media outlets reported, little has changed in Brooklyn Center, even five months after Wright’s killing, illustrating the challenges of reforming public safety, especially in cash-strapped cities. 

Gruenig said in the email that he was invited to the press conference at which Elliott announced the changes, but “politely declined.”

“One of the many reasons I declined is we did not play an active, equal roll (sic) in crafting this and I did not think it would send the right message if I attended,” he wrote.

He said his staff examined all of the city’s misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors and felonies in the previous five years and found that the policy would have allowed someone to be released, rather than arrested, in .07% of cases.

He wrote that he wasn’t trying to disparage the mayor, but merely point out that the city already had a citation and release policy that “the city manager signed off on.”

“All along we have stated we have (a) cite and summons policy that we all follow in letter and in spirit and this effort isn’t needed,” he wrote. “It fell on deaf ears.”

Gruenig said the city manager, Reggie Edwards, “understands that you can’t just flip a switch and change a policy.” 

He said the mayor’s policy would be implemented “in the near future” after some changes, “But we don’t think this will have a major impact on day to day operations as we already do most if not all of these things already.”

The mayor, Gruenig and Edwards did not respond to a request for comment.

The policy allows Brooklyn Center police officers to cite people for misdemeanors or refer them to public assistance programs and then release them. For more serious misdemeanors, the officer can arrest people if required by law, or if they’re a threat to public safety. And they can arrest people for felonies, to protect public safety, and for certain sex and gun crimes.

Brian Peters, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association and a former Brooklyn Center police commander, told KSTP — which first reported on the email — that it’s a minor policy change because officers don’t typically arrest people in most of the misdemeanor cases.

“I think politics is coming into play,” Peters told KSTP. “The mayor has been asked why isn’t this implemented yet, so now he’s trying to hurry up to show the public that what he promised is going to happen, but behind the scenes, pull back the curtain, there’s not much there.”

Peters did not respond to a request for comment.

The mayor of Brooklyn Center is a part-time position with a $13,000 annual salary.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.