Jan 9, 2023 - News

Slow healing in Brooklyn Center as new mayor takes office

Photo illustration of Brooklyn Center mayor April Graves surrounded by shapes and a photo of a person holding up a sign featuring Daunte Wright

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images, and courtesy April Graves

The new mayor of Brooklyn Center says she’ll take a collaborative approach to public safety reforms after her predecessor’s push for change was criticized as sowing drama and division in the north metro suburb.

The big picture: Sweeping overhauls promised in the wake of the 2021 police shooting of Daunte Wright, including new teams of unarmed traffic enforcement and mental health responders, have yet to materialize in the city of 32,000.

What she's saying: Mayor April Graves, who took office last week and will be sworn into the part-time position tonight, tells Axios she supports exploring partnerships with other local governments, such as Hennepin County, for alternative police responses "rather than creating our own completely stand-alone system" to start.

  • Once those are in place, the council and staff can be "analytical about assessing" gaps in services that need to be filled, she says.

Plus: Graves says she views the original plan to create multiple departments related to community safety and violence prevention "a bit of an overstep" for a city of Brooklyn Center’s size, arguing the work can be done without the structural shake-up.

Flashback: City leaders, led by then-Mayor Mike Elliott, pledged major changes to the city’s public safety system after Wright’s death during a traffic stop sparked days of protests and national headlines.

Between the lines: The mayoral race, which Graves won with 54% of the vote, was as much about leadership style as it was about policy differences.

  • Elliott's critics contended that he sought to overstep the mayor’s limited authority and gave outside advocacy groups too much power in crafting policy.
  • Graves, meanwhile, campaigned on a pledge to heal the city with a more inclusive approach to governing. She says staff and resident input will guide her decisions on the council.

Yes, but: Graves and other city leaders are likely to face renewed pressure from proponents of reform, who have complained that change has already been too slow.

  • "I'm frustrated, frankly, that the resolution hasn't been implemented yet, there's been plenty of time," Michelle Gross, a longtime police accountability activist who was involved in the plans, tells Axios. "They may never implement it if they keep going at the pace they're going."

What to watch: Graves, who works in violence prevention for the city of Minneapolis by day and has experience as a Reiki healer and yoga teacher, says a resume steeped in trauma-informed work has prepared her for the task of bringing the city together.

  • "I think that having that experience, both professionally and personally, helps me in a good position to be able to do healing work," she says.

What’s next: An advisory panel created in the wake of Wright’s death has been working on recommendations related to the public safety changes, some of which have already been presented to the Council.

  • Graves says she expects the city council to vote on the proposals after gathering input from community members and staff.

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