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One year later: Reform far from finished following Daunte Wright's killing

Wright's mother Katie grieves while she works to change policing.

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A poster of Daunte Wright hangs at the Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, memorial Thursday, April 7, 2022, for Wright, a Black man who was shot and killed in 2021 by former Brooklyn Center officer Kimberly Potter.
Tim Evans for MPR News
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BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. -- Monday marks one year since Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by a Brooklyn Center police officer.

The former officer, Kimberly Potter, has since been convicted and sentenced for manslaughter. Potter said she confused her gun for her taser, shooting Wright as he tried to flee arrest during a traffic stop.

The case has wrapped up as Brooklyn Center’s work around public safety has just begun.

Katie Wright, Daunte’s mother, is still determined to honor the life of her son through police reform.

“Fight now, grieve later is the mode we are put in when our loved ones are killed by police,” Wright said during a recent visit to the memorial along a residential Brooklyn Center street where her son died.

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The fight for police reform in Brooklyn Center started almost immediately after Daunte was shot and killed on April 11th, 2021. The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who murdered George Floyd, was underway when neighboring Brooklyn Center suddenly became the focus of national attention.

Mayor Mike Elliott, the first Black and first Liberian American mayor of Brooklyn Center, said the last year has been challenging. Elliott promised an overhaul of public safety in the city, which has a population of around 30,000 people.

“You have to have confidence in your public safety system in order for people to not only feel safe but to cooperate and help you solve crime,” Elliott said.

The resolution to make sweeping changes passed in May, just weeks after Wright’s killing. The new department of community safety and violence prevention will include a unit that will respond to mental health calls, an unarmed traffic enforcement unit and community programming aimed at reducing crime. Elliott said it is the most efficient approach because most of the calls that come in to Brooklyn Center police do not require an armed police response.

“So when people call us and ask for help we can send the proper response,” Elliott said. “We think that is smart and makes a lot of sense and helps keep our community safe.”

While Elliott had hoped to implement the new department by the one-year mark since Wright’s death, the committee of citizens tasked with helping implement the sweeping changes was just recently formed and just began meeting.

Katie Wright is part of the group.

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Katie Wright, mother of Daunte Wright, poses for a portrait on Thursday, April 7, 2022, at the Brooklyn Center memorial for her son.
Tim Evans for MPR News

“At first it was a rough start,” she said. “I was a little impatient on how slow it was going.”

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Wright said she remains hopeful the implementation committee will soon delve into forming new policies related to banning no-knock warrants and pretext traffic stops.

Elliott said the process could take more than another year before the new public safety department structure will be fully operational.

The City Council approved $1 million dollars for the mayor’s initiatives in December. He says part of the reason the efforts are stalling is because he wants to gather information and data to support any future funding decisions.

“It is still early in the process,” Elliott said.

New policies

In September, Brooklyn Center announced a new citations and summons policy which requires Brooklyn Center police officers to issue citations for misdemeanor offenses unless the officer believes the person’s behavior is a danger to themselves or the public. The goal of the policy is to help de-escalate situations. Elliott said the policy now requires officers to note why they made an arrest, but the city has not yet begun examining that data.

Elliott said Brooklyn Center has 35 current sworn officers, down from 42 before Wright’s death. Elliott wants to commission a study to determine whether more officers are needed, but said he did know when that study will happen. The implementation committee that includes Katie Wright also includes social workers, youth outreach workers and one former member of law enforcement, according to Elliott.

“It's certainly the committee’s full intent to make sure law enforcement are part of the process,” Elliott said.

The department is also in need of a new police chief, since the last chief left following his refusal to immediately fire Potter after she shot and killed Wright.

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Elliott said he is interviewing multiple candidates for police chief but would not share any names.

The labor union representing Brooklyn Center officers opposes the reforms passed by the city. Law Enforcement Labor Services questions the feasibility and legality of the city’s proposed changes, especially the part of the city’s resolution that discussed unarmed civilians responding to minor traffic violations.

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Messages line the pavement at the Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, memorial for Daunte Wright.
Tim Evans for MPR News

LELS and two other unions sent a letter to city leaders in May asking them not to pass the resolution. The letter said the proposal could give responsibilities to people without experience in police processes and endanger the public.

“The proposed resolution prohibiting custodial arrests or consent searches for non-felony offenses would prevent arrests for driving while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance and careless, reckless or other dangerous driving conduct. This is contrary to reason, state law and public safety,” the letter read.

“Likewise, officers called to a domestic assault are required by Minnesota law to arrest and detain the assailant. However, the resolution, as drafted, would conflict with state law and, importantly, increase the danger to the victim of that assault. Further, delegating responsibilities to committees composed of individuals without experience concerning police process, procedure, response or collective bargaining issues and terms is problematic.”

Katie Wright said she is frustrated by the pace of change but hopeful that by the next anniversary of her son Daunte’s death, she can say confidently the city of Brooklyn Center and the entire state of Minnesota are safer places for citizens and police officers.

“It’s bigger than Daunte, it’s bigger than the names we yell in the street.”

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