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Evanston’s Reimagining Public Safety Committee may draw inspiration from a Minneapolis suburb’s effort to rethink its police department. Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union involved in the Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, reforms spoke at a Tuesday meeting of the Evanston committee.

In April 2021, a police officer in Brooklyn Center shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop. Police say the officer meant to use her Taser but accidentally fired her service weapon. After Wright’s death, advocates and elected officials pushed for change within the local police department, and within a month, the City Council drafted and passed a resolution to reform policing.

Paige Fernandez, a policing policy advisor at the American Civil Liberties Union, presented the Brooklyn Center resolution Tuesday at Evanston’s Reimagining Public Safety Committee meeting.

Fernandez, who worked closely with Brooklyn Center city officials, outlined for committee members how that municipality decided to rethink its police department. The Daunte Wright and Kobe Dimock-Heisler Community Safety and Violence Prevention resolution, named after two Black men killed by Brooklyn Center police, created a new department, called the Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention. 

Led by a director with public health expertise, the department will oversee the Police Department and the Fire Department as well as two new departments: the Traffic Enforcement Department and the Community Response Department.

Rethinking police duties

The Traffic Enforcement Department will be unarmed and civilian-led, and enforce all nonmoving traffic violations, such as broken tail lights and expired registrations. Due to requirements of Minnesota state law, the department will only address nonmoving traffic violations, but it will still limit criminalization and provide community members with support, Fernandez said. 

A memorial to Daunte Wright is seen April 21, 2021, in Minneapolis. Wright’s death at the hands of police in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, led that city to make changes to its public safety policies. (Photo by Lorie Shaull)

“Daunte Wright was pulled over, and it was a traffic stop where he was killed,” Fernandez said. “This department specifically seeks to reduce community contact with police.”

The other new department, the Community Response Department, will be made up of social workers, volunteers, and medical and mental health professionals who will respond to mental health crises or other behavioral or social needs. This department also will be unarmed and civilian-led, and is intended to provide the community with support, while reducing criminalization. 

In addition to creating these new departments, the Brooklyn Center resolution created the Community Safety and Violence Prevention Committee, which Fernandez said shares similarities with Evanston’s Reimagining Public Safety Committee.

The Brooklyn Center committee is made up primarily of community members, especially those with direct experience being incarcerated or detained, and works to create policy recommendations, especially outside the scope of the new resolution. 

A citations and summons policy will be implemented in a month or two and will require police officers to only issue citations, not make arrests, for nonfelony charges, Fernandez said. After that, Brooklyn Center also anticipates a stricter use-of-force policy, she said.

Brooklyn Center is currently working to hire a project manager and other positions to assist with implementing the resolution. 

Fernandez said an Implementation Committee, with subgroups, will create more detailed policy. “The resolution leaves a road map, but these subgroups will be developing the policies to implement that road map,” she said.

In addition, a Civilian Oversight Committee will monitor the long-term effects of the resolution by continuing to evaluate the results even after the Implementation Committee is dissolved.

ACLU backs resolution process

Fernandez also spoke to why the Brooklyn Center chose to pass a resolution and why the ACLU believes such resolutions are helpful tools for reimagining public safety. She said resolutions solidify the work that many committees have already done, and in the process, revitalize and energize community members working toward change.

“The existence of a resolution kind of makes it real, and helps recruit additional technical assistance and external investment into the work, which is what we’re seeing in Brooklyn Center,” she said. 

Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss added that a resolution requires council members to commit to move the city in a specific direction, without having every single policy detail fleshed out. Transforming public safety will take time, and a resolution shows residents that the City Council is dedicated to making those changes, he said. 

ACLU Deputy Director of Campaigns Taylor Pendergrass, also present at the meeting, said the resolution in Brooklyn Center is binding, and if that city’s leaders wanted to stop the efforts to change policing, they would need to repeal the resolution.

“We need a commitment to go in a very specific direction,” Fernandez said, “and with a resolution, we have that commitment.” 

A Q&A session after Fernandez’s presentation revealed some hesitancy among committee members about passing a resolution in Evanston. Committee member Betty Ester said she wants to see a policy in Evanston, rather than a resolution like in Brooklyn Center. 

In response, Pendergrass said the resolution ensures the cooperation of City staff who are charged with writing and implementing the policy. In fact, the resolution required the formulation of the citations and summons policy, which is being drafted, and will soon be implemented, he said. 

Fernandez said the Brooklyn Center resolution is concrete and provides organizations, advocacy groups, committees and others working to change public safety with necessary resources and members. 

“We passed this resolution. It’s binding,” Fernandez said. “Now it’s about the implementation.”

 

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