The Brooklyn Park Police Department is taking a new strategy to steer youths and young adults away from violent crime and address the root causes fueling the rise in homicides, robberies, rapes and auto thefts.

Police Chief Mark Bruley said this week that the department is creating the Violence Intervention Unit to work with young people believed to be at high risk of committing violent crimes.

"We want to have better outcomes," Bruley said in an interview. "We never get to the root of the problem, of what is causing groups to seek out violence or guns. We are done with that model."

For the past few years, the city has contracted with community groups unaffiliated with the Police Department to walk the streets and create relationships with young troublemakers. But that strategy hasn't been effective, Bruley said, largely because police can't share data or information that would allow the groups to regularly connect with those most likely to offend.

The city terminated its contract with the violence interrupter group Village BP on Jan. 1.

The community groups had success at some troublesome corners, Bruley said. But he said that telling a drug dealer to stop dealing or armed person to put down a gun has simply sent the problems elsewhere.

And when arrests are made, offenders may go to jail for six months, Bruley said, but "when they come out, they are worse off."

The new in-house intervention unit will have four non-sworn staff members, including two case workers who would focus on 20 to 30 youths on the police's radar. The workers could refer youths to mental health services, mentoring, sports programs, medications or places to get food. The case workers ― like social workers — would also follow up with individuals to ensure they do what's needed to get on the right path, Bruley said.

Community groups would still have a role, he said. But instead of operating on their own, they would report to an intervention unit manager, who then would direct their efforts to the young people in need of their help, Bruley said.

The unit also will partner with Hennepin County services and school districts.

The operation would take a Mayo Clinic approach, recommending remedies and behavioral correction steps on an individual basis. But the unit won't go soft on crime, Bruley said.

"It is a choice," the chief said. "We want you to pick another path, but if you don't, we will ask the Hennepin County Attorney to prosecute to the full extent of the law."

The unit should be up and running "very soon," Bruley said. Job postings were being developed this week, even though the funding has yet to be finalized.

Brooklyn Park received a $325,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to fund the three-year program, though the city had asked for $2.8 million. Bruley said the Police Department will make up the difference by using leftover federal American Rescue Plan dollars and money it received from the Legislature last year.

While the north metro city of nearly 90,000 residents has seen overall crime drop to a near 30-year low, violent crimes — robberies, assaults, rape and homicides — are way up this year.

Auto theft is also up. Last year, 391 vehicles were stolen, police records show, and individuals younger than 24 years old were responsible for "the lion's share" of the incidents, Bruley said.

That was the impetus to try something other agencies have not, he said.

Mayor Hollies Winston and others on the City Council expressed support at this week's council meeting where Bruley presented the plan.

"I think this is work that lots of people have hoped for, talked about, dreamed about," Council Member Christian Eriksen said. "So many police departments seem reluctant or scared to venture into some of these things. I just appreciate the forward-thinking and the courage to try what hasn't been tried before."

The goal is to head off crime before it happens and get the best outcomes for troubled youths, Bruley said.

"We are coming at this from a perspective of love," he said. "That is public safety, correcting behavior without punishment. It's a win-win."