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Police reform moves forward amid officer’s trial for death of Daunte Wright

(BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn.) — As the trial of former police officer Kim Potter begins in Minnesota, the Brooklyn Center City Council has officially backed the formation of a new public safety department that will reimagine how traffic stops in the city are handled.

Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was fatally shot by Potter during a traffic stop in April. He was initially stopped for an expired registration tag, and when officers discovered he had an outstanding warrant for a gross misdemeanor weapons charge, they tried to detain him.

That’s when things turned deadly: During a struggle, Potter shot Wright, and he drove off and crashed the car a few blocks away, according to officials. Wright has said she accidentally grabbed her firearm instead of her stun gun when she shot him.

Potter is charged with first-degree and second-degree manslaughter. She has pleaded not guilty to both charges.

The city council has now designated $1.3 million to fund the promises made in a police reform resolution that was passed back in May 2021 following Wright’s death.

“This is a real landmark moment,” Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott, who is also a council member, said in an interview with ABC News. “This is a start, and it is still a big step forward in doing this work.”

Wright’s death spurred a movement

Elliott created and presented the Daunte Wright and Kobe Dimock-Heisler Community Safety and Violence Prevention Act less than a month following Wright’s death. Dimock-Heisler was a 21-year-old man on the autism spectrum who was fatally shot by Brooklyn Center officers during a domestic disturbance call last year. Charges were not filed against the officers.

The city council quickly voted unanimously to pass the resolution in honor of the two men.

“We’re taking a bold step here, this city,” Elliott said at a May 15 city council session discussing the vote. “But we can do it. We’re gonna do it.”

On Monday, the Brooklyn Center city council voted in favor of reducing police funding by about 1.6% in the upcoming year and shifting funds to create the new Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention. Brooklyn Center police will still be funded more than they were in 2020, according to budget documents shown at the meeting.

Along with the Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention, which will be responsible for “overseeing all city agencies and city efforts regarding community health and public safety,” according to the resolution, there will be a new Community Response Department composed of unarmed, trained medical and mental health professionals and social workers to assist with medical, mental health and disability-related calls.

An unarmed, civilian Traffic Enforcement Department will also be created to response to “non-moving” traffic violations.

“[Police departments] are coming around and seeing how valuable this type of transformation is, and how much it frees them up from having to respond to mental health calls and calls related to social work,” Elliott said.

A New York Times investigation found that in the last five years, police killed more than 400 people during traffic stops, all of whom were not displaying a gun or a knife, or were under pursuit for a violent crime when they were killed. LINK?

The city will also implement a “citation and summons” policy requiring officers to only issue citations and ban “custodial arrests or searches of persons or vehicles for any non-moving traffic infraction, non-felony offense or non-felony warrant,” the resolution reads.

“This is what could happen in many small cities across this country,” said Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of the local Islamic civil liberties and advocacy group CAIR-Minnesota. “The merits of this resolution is to do less harm and evaluate the amount of workload that police officers have to engage in that can create very volatile and dangerous situations for the public.”

The resolution also seeks to create new use of force policies and establish a new Community Safety and Violence Prevention Committee, composed of mostly city residents with direct or close experience with arrests, detention or contact with Brooklyn Center police.

The Brooklyn Center Police Department deferred to City of Brooklyn Center representatives for comment, who did not respond to ABC News’ requests. Elliott said BCPD officials are supportive of the compromises made on the resolution.

Still more to do, activists say

The ambitions of the initial proposal for the new department have been somewhat muted in the final revision of the budget.

Funds for 14 open police department positions were initially supposed to support the department’s creation, but the council approved freezing only three currently vacant police positions and instead will use lodging taxes and grants to assist in paying for the public safety changes for now.

Although the goal is to have 24/7 service to completely replace officers in traffic enforcement, according to Elliott, it’s not set in stone.

“I am fully committed to continuing to work with the community to make sure that the rest resolution is Public Safety Act and the programs and are fully funded in the year 2022,” Elliott said.

Katie Wright, Wright’s mother, was among many during the Dec. 6 city council budget meeting who expressed concern that this proposal would fall short of the original vision passed in April — a proposal named for her son.

“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 and that people are not in support of,” she said.

Local activists, who have been involved in the police reform efforts, say this is the first step toward fixing what they say is a broken criminal justice system. However, the over $9 million budget given to police — the most funding given to any government initiative in Brooklyn Center by a wide margin — is a point of contention for some.

“We know that anytime something is funded, that’s what gives it its power,” said Toshira Garraway, founder of support group Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, which is working with Wright’s family.

Citing the four fatal civilian shootings by law enforcement in Brooklyn Center since Wright’s death, she said that treading lightly on reform initiatives is not the way to go.

“We have to start doing what makes sense and we have to try a different avenue,” Garraway said. “We can’t go about things the same way and think that we’re gonna get a different outcome.”

ABC News’ Adia Robinson contributed to this report.

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