Brooklyn Center on Tuesday took its first step in reforming public safety by instructing police officers to release offenders they cite for low-level crimes and take them into custody only when the law requires them to do so.

Under the new Citation and Release policy, officers can issue a citation for misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor offenses then let the person go. The policy also requires officers to attempt to de-escalate situations and try alternatives to avoid taking people into custody, and to document in writing all efforts taken before placing a person under arrest.

"Today we are taking another step forward in our collective work to reimagining public safety in Brooklyn Center," said Mayor Mike Elliott. "This step moves us closer to ensuring there is more equity in how we conduct public safety."

The idea is for officers to explore alternatives to avoid creating a criminal record, said City Attorney Troy Gilchrist.

The policy, crafted by the mayor, city manager and police chief, is aimed at keeping people who lack the financial means to make bail out of jail if they are stopped for a minor traffic infraction.

"Many people of color — particularly Black men — carry trauma from an experience, or many, when being pulled over by the police," said City Council member Marquita Butler. "This policy is important and needed to ensure we don't have any more deaths as a result of minor traffic infractions."

The policy grew out of the Daunte Wright and Kobe Dimock-Heisler Community Safety and Violence Prevention Resolution that the City Council passed in May. The measure was passed after the two Black men were killed during encounters with police and calls grew for a new city department to oversee public safety among other changes.

Under the policy, officers will be allowed to make an arrest in cases of felony offenses or if an officer deems a suspect poses a threat to themselves, the public or to property.

Only the citation policy went into effect Tuesday, and the city continues to work on implementing other aspects of the resolution passed in May. Those include using unarmed civilians to handle minor traffic violations and creation of an implementation committee composed of residents, including people who have been detained by Brooklyn Center police, to review and make recommendations for future changes as outlined in the resolution.

Before the measure passed, law enforcement had criticized the proposals pushed by Elliott, particularly using unarmed civilians to make traffic stops.

"This indicates a city willing to learn from past mistakes and is committed to moving forward with evidence-based, meaningful policies," said Munira Mohamed, a policy associate at ACLU of Minnesota.

The City Council approved the creation of a project manager to head the Community Safety and Violence Prevention Implementation Committee, on a 3-2 vote at its Aug. 23 meeting.

Elliott was hopeful an implementation committee could be assembled in the next couple of months, and that more sweeping changes could be in place by next spring, but that the timeline is being driven by "our need to ensure there isn't another fatality."

Tuesday's move was cheered by Brian Fullman, of the Barbershops and Black Congregation Cooperative. He said the move will allow Brooklyn Center to set the tone for the rest of the state.

"It opens up a conversation on how we can have public safety," he said. "It encourages the community to use their voice every step of the way and preserves the dignity and respect of every resident of Brooklyn Center."

Police reform in the city of about 31,000 residents became a hot-button issue after the deaths of the two Black men. The city endured nights of protests and some vandalism in the wake of the police shooting of Daunte Wright in April.

The new policy comes as the city is down to 38 officers from 44 at the beginning of the year. It also comes as the city looks hard at how it spends its money and how it will allocate funds to enact change. Currently about 43% of the city's budget is directed for police and public safety.

Elliott said the citation policy is not final and changes are likely after data is collected.

"We are going to continue to evolve," Elliott said.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768