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Minn. PD uses federal, state public safety grants to create violence intervention unit

The Brooklyn Park Police Department will take the lead in steering youths and young adults away from violent crime after partnerships with community organizations didn’t bring desired outcomes, officials said

Brooklyn Park police create new unit to curb youth violence

“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.”

Brooklyn Park, M.N. Police Department

By Tim Harlow
Star Tribune

BROOKLYN PARK, Minn. — 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.

Chief Mark Bruley this week said the department is creating a violence intervention unit that will operate under police department control with the goal of providing better outcomes for those deemed as high risk to commit 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 that don’t have an affiliation with the police department to walk the streets and create relationships with those causing trouble. But that 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 groups had some success at cleaning up some troublesome corners, Bruley said, but telling someone not to deal drugs or put down a gun has simply sent the problems elsewhere. When arrests are made, offenders may go to jail for six months, but “when they come out, they are worse off.”

The new in-house unit would 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, athletic programs, medications or places to get food. The case workers ― like social workers — would also follow up and walk alongside individuals to ensure they are following through and getting the correction needed to get on the right path, Bruley said.

Community groups would still be a part of the equation, but instead of operating on their own, they would report to an Intervention Unit manager who would know who is at risk for offending and divert their efforts there, Bruley said.

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

The unit 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,” Bruley 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 new unit should be up and running “very soon,” Bruley said. Job postings were being crafted 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 pay for the three-year program, though the city had asked for $2.8 million. The police department will use leftover American Rescue Plan dollars and money it received from the Legislature last year to make up the difference, Bruley said.

While the north metro city of 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 high. Last year, 391 vehicles were stolen, police department records show. Individuals under 24 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 unveiled 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,” Bruley said. “That is public safety, correcting behavior without punishment. It’s a win-win.”

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