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Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, speaks on Brooklyn Center Police Department costs Nov. 15.

The Brooklyn Center City Council considered adjusting its budget Nov. 15, with representatives from Communities United Against Police Brutality and the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota arguing that the city would realize budget savings by more fully implementing new response models for the police department.

In introducing the presentations, Mayor Mike Elliott said he had requested Communities United Against Police Brutality to provide numbers reflecting “what it might look like for us to have a community response team (and a traffic enforcement unit).”

The discussion was taking place within a budget context, he explained. The council has already approved a preliminary budget and property tax levy, which legally binds the council from raising the levy beyond the certified maximum limit.

Elliott said he plans to “draft a proposal for how to maybe go about looking at our funding plan for next year as it relates to public safety in light of these two presentations, and work with staff as well. I don’t envision that everybody is on the same page right now, quite honestly.”

With budget deadlines for 2022 looming, it’s unclear whether there is an appetite among councilmembers to substantially change the budget beyond the earlier proposal brought forward by the city’s administration. Cities are required to certify their final levies and budgets no later than Dec. 28.

Brooklyn Center has been debating the future of the city’s Police Department and public safety response model since May, when the council passed a resolution to create a new public safety division staffed with unarmed civilians and mental health professionals that respond to mental health calls and non-moving traffic violations.

The decision came in the wake of the officer-involved fatal shooting of Daunte Wright in April.

The resolution was named after Wright and Kobe Dimmock-Heisler, who was on the autism spectrum and was shot and killed by Brooklyn Center Police during a domestic incident in 2019.

City Manager Reggie Edwards previously told the council that while the city may be able to implement parts of the resolution or the spirit of the resolution, it would not be fiscally able to implement the resolution in full as it was proposed for the immediate future.

Edwards declined to comment on the presentations until city staff could make a more thorough analysis of the data that was presented.

Less expensive response?

The city’s public safety resolution calls for the creation of an overarching Office of Prevention, Health and Safety, with the Police Department, Fire Department, Civilian Traffic Enforcement and Community Response units managed under the same umbrella organization.

Policing in Brooklyn Center accounts for approximately 39% of the city’s $24.6 million total proposed budget.

Michelle Gross, from Communities United Against Police Brutality, told the council that implementing the changes laid out in the city’s public safety resolution would provide substantial fiscal benefits for the city through reduced Police Department expenses.

The scope of work for police officers has gone beyond their remit, with officers responding to calls that could be answered by a professional with lower pay rates, she said. Likewise, calls for mental health, social services and non-violent conflict resolution could be handled by individuals without a law enforcement license.

“Our organization does not support the abolition of police in our society at this time,” Gross said. “People who have been harmed by violent crime, financial exploitation, etc., those folks, their access to the court system is by way of law enforcement investigations, so that’s the role of police.”

According to Gross, every call the Brooklyn Center Police Department responds to costs the city an average of $234.57.

Gross said the Police Department provided her with 2019 call data to inform her analysis. Likewise, she used call trends between 2015 and 2019, when there was an approximately 2.33% increase in calls annually, to make estimates for 2022 costs.

In her budget statistics, Gross also assumed the Community Response Unit proposed in the resolution would operate in a 24-hour response format as required by state law, responding to mental health, social service, and conflict resolution calls.

Assuming a 33% benefit rate and pay rates of $52.88 for a mental health professional supervisor, $27.21 for paramedics, $25.70 for social workers, and $21.57 for administrative support for two to five days per week, calls for the community response unit would cost $76.12 on average, according to Gross.

Gross came to a similar conclusion regarding the civilian traffic enforcement unit.

Since only licensed police officers are allowed to stop a moving vehicle under state law, the civilian traffic enforcement unit would respond to all non-moving traffic and parking enforcement tasks.

By Gross’ analysis, with supervisors paid $25 per hour, civilian traffic enforcers paid $20.23, and an administrative assistant paid $21.57 – all with 33% benefits – the cost per call for the traffic enforcement unit would be $69.16.

“The return on investment, the ROI, is fantastic on these alternative response units – those kinds of things are things that can happen relatively quickly,” Gross said. “And not only that, but the ROI is so good on them that there’s almost no good reason not to get them going quickly. … It’s also the human ROI.”

In other cities, mental health units have been assembled in approximately six months, Gross said.

Funding to create either response model could come from savings from unfilled police positions, American Rescue Plan funds, or from other public and private grants such as the U.S. Department of Justice Criminal Justice Mental Health Collaboration Grant or the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge Grant, Gross said.

A representative of the ACLU suggested the city consider fully fund the creation of a community response department with an estimated cost of $832,000, hire a director of community safety and violence prevention for $150,000, provide $150,000 for the creation of the implementation committee, provide $350,000 for community programming and supportive programs, and fund a pilot study of the civilian traffic enforcement department for $20,000.

Maintaining the Police Department’s staffing levels rather than hiring new officers would pay for the initiative, the ACLU said.

In 2019, the department responded to 38,370 calls for service. Of those calls, 4% were general calls for help, 24% were related to traffic, 22% were reports of criminal incidents, 10% were medical calls and 1% were mental health calls.

Proposed budget

In the 2022 proposed budget, the city allocated approximately $1.1 million toward implementing the resolution. This allocation includes outside funds as well as internal funds.

Foundations contributed approximately $500,000 to those efforts. Other work included in the budget is the creation of the Office of Community Prevention, Health and Safety, and the funding for a management position for the implementation committee.

In a memo dated Nov. 9, Edwards told Elliott that the city currently employs 35 sworn officers, with at least two on field training and several on long-term leave. The department is authorized to employ up to 49 officers.

The city has budgeted $5.9 million for the 35 filled positions, and $1.3 million for 14 unfilled positions.

“Please know that we budget for vacancy saving throughout the general fund or across the organizations,” Edwards wrote. “Thereby, a vacancy in the (police department) cannot be extrapolated as if it were a direct relationship between a vacancy in the PD and the budget of the PD.”

Council and community feedback

Councilmembers agreed that they wanted to wait to see the city staff’s response to the presentations before committing to any budget revisions.

Councilmembers April Graves and Dan Ryan questioned why this information was not brought forward to the council earlier in the budget process.

“The work has to happen together continuously,” Graves said. “I feel like again you’re kind of putting us in a position where you’re kind of, like, saying, ‘Let’s do this now, right now,’ when we already voted on the preliminary budget. … That’s really frustrating.”

Graves said she was open to hearing Elliott’s proposals, however.

Elliott apologized for making councilmembers feel rushed. “I am not perfect in how I move forward,” he said.

Councilmember Kris Lawrence-Anderson said that with such sweeping changes proposed, the council ought to be reserved and consider all outcomes and unintended consequences of their actions.

“I am going to proceed cautiously because if Brooklyn Center is going to be first, I want to make certain that we are going to be successful at being the first and being a benchmark for something that went very well,” Lawrence-Anderson said.

The council and city staff should have sufficient time to review potential changes before the deadline, Councilmember Marquita Butler said.

“I don’t think (the) time (frame) is as restrictive it’s being characterized,” she said.

Some residents commenting on the plan spoke to their concerns about existing violent crime in the city and questioned the wisdom of leaving police positions unfilled. Others said the plan needs to move forward to prevent another officer-involved shooting.

“There are many of us out here who are extremely concerned with the direction our city management is going,” said Sherry Higgins. “You can bring all the outside resources you want. … The fact is we’re living it and I think you just have lost sight of that. We’re the ones ducking when we hear gunshots.”

The non-existence of crime does not equal public safety, said Alfreda Daniels.

“I am worried about the safety of my very Black, tall, dark husband. I am worried about the safety of my Black daughter. I am worried about my safety,” she said.

It’s important to remember that the reason the resolution moved forward is that “someone’s child, father, brother was killed. They were murdered,” she said.

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