ST. PAUL — With so much rage from officials and community members directed at Lt. Bob Kroll, he had considered whether he should step down as president of the Minneapolis police union.
He discussed it with the Minneapolis police chief, the Minneapolis Police Federation board and officers.
“I thought if it might help calm the situation in Minneapolis, if that would do it, I would consider it,” Kroll said Tuesday, June 23. “And the feedback that I got back from our membership and our board was exactly the opposite — that it would just fuel more fire and they would take it as a victory, much like taking the 3rd Precinct empowered them to … destroy South Minneapolis.”
Kroll and other Minneapolis police union leaders spoke out publicly Tuesday — it was the first time since George Floyd died after officers pinned him to the ground, while he was handcuffed, on May 25.
Kroll said they all agree a bystander’s video of what happened to Floyd was “absolutely horrific.”
“Very tough to watch,” he said. “Does not reflect our department.”
In the aftermath, four officers — who were fired — were criminally charged in Floyd’s death; the Minnesota Department of Human Rights opened a wide-ranging investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department’s past decade of racial practices; and Minneapolis City Council members announced they would begin the process of ending the police department.
In a 30-minute interview on Tuesday with the Pioneer Press, Kroll and Minneapolis police union leaders discussed declining morale among officers, what they see as a path forward, and that they don’t see systemic racism in law enforcement.
Why did they decide to talk now?
Brian Peters, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, said they spoke out Tuesday because they wanted to shut “down the false narratives.” The association represents 10,400 officers in the state and Peters said those rank-and-file cops have become scapegoats.
“Leadership really needs to turn and look in the mirror,” he said. “At the state level, at the city level nobody’s doing that right now.”
Officer morale has been devastated, said officer Rich Walker Sr., a director of the Minneapolis Police Federation. Some officers who were close to retirement decided to leave early and others resigned because “they feel our city’s not going to support us,” he said.
Kroll said he think it’s unfair and misdirected that city leaders have focused their attention on the police union and him. Protesters also gathered outside WCCO-TV, where Kroll’s wife, Liz Collin, is an anchor and reporter.
Monique Cullars-Doty, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Twin Cities Metro, views Kroll as blaming the administration, but she said, “really, the whole police system is unjust.”
“There’s a lot of history … and Bob Kroll cannot remove himself from that history, he cannot blame or try to make himself and the police federation victims,” she said.
Burning of the Third Precinct
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who pleaded for calm during rioting, approved the decision to abandon the city’s Third Precinct station on the night of May 28, surrendering it to people who set fire to the building, the Associated Press reported.
That morning, officers who worked in the precinct were told to collect their belongings “because they were going to give it up,” Kroll said Tuesday.
Frey said in a Tuesday statement: “I’m not interested in Kroll’s arm-chair quarterbacking. However, I will note that the governor has repeatedly stated no city could have handled a crisis of this magnitude without support from other jurisdictions, and the full mobilization of the Minnesota National Guard was necessary.”
Walker, who worked in the Third Precinct, said Tuesday, “I don’t believe I’ve ever felt the sense of loss of faith in our city leaders when I was rushing to empty my locker out. I never thought that we would get to this point that our leaders would quit on us.”
Why did Kroll bring up Floyd's criminal history?
In an earlier two-page letter to Minneapolis Police Federation members, Kroll wrote, “What is not being told is the violent criminal history of George Floyd. The media will not air this.”
Kroll’s letter came to light on June 1 when former Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau tweeted it and wrote, “A disgrace to the badge!”
Kroll said Tuesday that he put out the letter hastily after they were working long hours.
“It was a collection of thoughts and relaying what we as a federation board had been doing,” he said. “It was intended to improve member morale and it was not well thought out. There were things in there that I shouldn’t have included and it certainly was not to be shared to the media. It’s not our job to research the criminal history or share that and we didn’t do that.”
Systemic racism in law enforcement?
Discussions about systemic racism have been front and center in Floyd’s death — he was Black and officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on his neck for more than 7 minutes, is white.
Walker, who is also vice president of the National Black Police Association’s Minnesota chapter, said Tuesday that it’s his opinion that there’s not systemic racism in law enforcement.
“I believe it’s a punchline used right now to divide us,” he said. “It’s very divisive and it needs to stop. I believe we have progress in our city that people are failing to recognize. We have a Black attorney general. Our city council has a lot of minorities on it. Our chief is Black. I’m the first ever elected Black union leader in my department. You don’t hear that.”
And anywhere that there is systemic racism, Walker added, “We need to find it, we need to corner it and we need to fight it together.”
Do police unions protect bad officers?
Among a host of police accountability bills proposed during the special session of the Legislature, which ended in a stalemate early Saturday, was a bill that would have changed arbitration procedures for police officers.
Frey and other mayors expressed frustration that officers who are fired for misconduct can get their jobs back through the arbitration process.
Sgt. Sherral Schmidt, Minneapolis Police Federation vice president, said Tuesday that they don’t take every case of discipline or termination to an arbitrator.
“There are cases that we agree with the administration on and we agree that we’re not going to grieve those cases,” Schmidt said.
“Chauvin’s one of them,” Kroll added.
A path forward?
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo announced earlier this month that he would withdraw from police union contract negotiations.
Is there a way forward, past the strife between Minneapolis’ leadership and the police federation?
“I’ll tell you the exact opposite way is to pull away from the table,” said Sgt. Anna Hedberg, a police union director. “It’s very disheartening because up to May 24, we had a great working relationship with the front office.”
After Floyd died, Hedberg said, “The narrative changed to, ‘We have systemic racism.’ It caught a lot of officers off guard because now our own chief and our own city officials are painting us with a broad stroke.”
Schmidt said they’re not opposed to ideas about reform or changes, but they don’t agree with bills being quickly passed at the Legislature.
“We need to have thoughtful conversations about what this looks like and do it right the first time,” she said.