By Tim Cushing
The biggest impediments to serious police reform are the shields erected around them, preventing officers from being held responsible for just about anything. Officer Derek Chauvin, whose brutal killing of a black man has provoked a national civil uprising, may be criminally charged at the moment. But that’s no guarantee he won’t end up a cop again, even if he ends up convicted.
Whitewashing police misconduct is par for the course. Police unions — which have little in common with the labor unions that have put some employees on more equal ground with their employers — have ensured officers are extended a ton of extra rights to help them escape accountability for their abuses of power. The average perp is dragged downtown and sweated down by interrogators until they crack. The average cop accused of a crime usually has a day or two free from tough questions to get their story straight. They also have union-appointed legal reps at their disposal and a contractual burial of paperwork detailing their previous misdeeds. Should they manage to somehow get fired, they head directly into arbitration, arguing for their reinstatement against city officials who have to work with at least one arm legally tied behind their back.
The Minneapolis PD is no exception. Its union is powerful. And it’s led by someone on par with those fronting the NYPD’s police unions — the unions that have routinely disparaged the public, the press, and city leaders for daring to criticize any officers’ actions.
Police Officers Federation of Minnesota leader Bob Kroll may not be as nationally famous as Pat Lynch or Ed Mullins. But he is locally infamous as the face of police misconduct — a man who aligns himself with President Trump and his glorification of cops and their violence. Melissa Segura has written a piece about Bob Kroll’s involvement in making the Minneapolis PD worse (along with the general terribleness of police unions), but my first exposure to Bob Kroll’s awfulness came via a St. Paul (MN) native and former coworker/current friend of mine, who’s living only miles away from the epicenter of the current civil unrest.
As is pointed out by my friend and BuzzFeed, the city tried to curb the baser instincts of officers by steering them away from training that teaches them to treat everyone they run into as a violent threat. For years, a former cop has been traveling the country putting officers into the “warrior” mindset, delivering hideous guidance and advice, like promising officers the best sex they’ll ever have will follow their killing of a citizen.
More than a year before a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, pinned George Floyd to the ground in a knee chokehold, Mayor Jacob Frey banned “warrior” training for the city’s police force.
Private trainers across the country host seminars, frequently at taxpayer expense, teaching “killology” and pushing the notion that if officers aren’t willing to “snuff out a life” then they should “consider another line of work.” Frey explained that this type of training — which has accompanied the increasing militarization of the police over the last few decades — undermined the community-based policing he wanted the city to adopt after a string of high-profile killings in the region.
But then the police union stepped in.
The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis worked out a deal with a company to offer warrior training. For free. For as long as Frey was mayor.
Steering clear of training that exacerbates current law enforcement issues would have a positive effect on cops and their relationship to the people they serve. But that’s unacceptable, according to the Minneapolis police union and its leader. Instead, Kroll sends cops out on the union’s tab to partake in particularly toxic masculinity, allowing them to fully embrace the worst aspects of their personalities as some sort of law enforcement “tool.”
Every dues-paying cop knows the benefits of this relationship. It means they have an always-available legal defense fund they can dip into. They know their trail of destruction cannot be used against them during current investigations. And they know the public can do almost nothing about, since police unions tend to wield more power than their oversight, whether it’s city governments or independent oversight boards.
While we understand law enforcement agencies are arms of the city governments they ostensibly serve, we also expect them to — at least publicly — maintain some sort of political agnosticism. We don’t want cops pulling us over because we’ve bumper-stickered our support for candidates they don’t like across the back of our cars. We also want to believe they’re not aligning themselves with any ideology that might result in inequitable treatment of the policed. That ship has sailed, ladies and gentleman. The cops in Minneapolis have boldly — and very publicly — said they’re solidly supportive of the powers that be.
The Minneapolis chapter sold “Cops for Trump” T-shirts on its website, and national police unions have publicly endorsed Trump.
This followed another public endorsement of Trump by union leader Bob Kroll, who appeared onstage with Trump during a rally.
Kroll, the president of the Minneapolis Police Federation, wore a bright red “Cops for Trump” T-shirt, and spoke at Target Center about how the president supports police departments across the country as they face scrutiny following years of high-profile police shootings.
“The Obama administration and the handcuffing and oppression of police was despicable,” Kroll said. “The first thing President Trump did when he took office was turn that around … he decided to start let cops do their job, put the handcuffs on the criminals instead of (on) us.”
And, as if Kroll’s relationship with the public wasn’t screwed up enough, there’s another aspect to his life that suggests some of the local press may be hesitant to engage in criticism of the Minneapolis PD. Kroll will offer controversial (or bigoted) comments on just about anything that happens to mildly annoy him. But he won’t talk about being literally married to the local press.
[Kroll] came under fire after reportedly suggesting that then-U. S. Rep. Keith Ellison was a terrorist. Another time, he was suspended after being accused of using a homophobic slur about a gay aide to former Mayor R.T. Rybak. Both episodes, which Kroll continues to deny happened as reported, were cited in a 2007 federal lawsuit brought by five black officers, including Arradondo, as examples of institutional racism within the department’s ranks.
Like many cops, Kroll keeps his private life private, particularly his marriage to WCCO-TV reporter Liz Collin. He refused to discuss the subject — going as far as saying he’d no longer talk to the Star Tribune if it reported they were married. He said he was concerned it would negatively affect her career.
Kroll runs an organization that wields more power than the people charged with controlling the officers he represents. The negative pasts of cops are wiped away by boilerplate. And since an officer’s past can’t be used against them during current investigations, fewer and fewer complaints end up sustained as time goes on. The internal investigation process is self-defeating, thanks to the union’s intervention.
Minneapolis’s contract, similar to others, states that “investigations into an employee’s conduct which do not result in the imposition of discipline shall not be entered into the employee’s official personnel file.” Translation: Since only around 1% of complaints adjudicated since 2012 have resulted in an officer being disciplined, city records show, most complaints will be erased.
There are shades of qualified immunity (another large impediment to police reform) in the union contract. If complaints can’t be sustained — and an officer’s pattern of conduct rendered irrelevant — it makes it almost impossible for investigators to prove any misconduct was either part of a pattern or previously shown to be a violation of policy.
“Because the city never disciplines anybody, any discipline is inconsistent with past practice,” [activist Dave Bicking] said, referring to the common practice of basing decisions on past precedent. “You can’t discipline now because you’ve never disciplined before. It’s a real Catch-22.”
The end result is an officer killing an unresistant person in broad daylight in front of several cameras while three other officers joined in. This is why no officer moved to stop Chauvin from performing his dangerous restraint technique, even after it had already determined George Floyd was no longer responsive and no pulse could be detected.
If you want to change policing, you have to start with the entities that allow officers to indulge in their worst excesses. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear any city is strong enough to stand up against police unions. Playing hardball with contracts makes city leaders appear soft on crime and most tend to steer very clear of anything that might provoke a strike or work slowdown. But it appears other unions — ones whose worst excesses rarely result in their employees killing other people — are sick of police unions and their bullshit.
“Bob is the president and what I believe is he really perpetuates a culture of violence towards people of our community, members of the black community and really all people of color,” said Bill McCarthy, president of Minnesota AFL-CIO, which represents thousands of workers across the state. “He’s setting the tone, he’s setting this culture of violence against his citizenry among the ranks and so he needs to go.”
Education Minnesota, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals, AFSCME Council 5, SEIU Minnesota, and the Minnesota Nurses Association have now all issued their own statements in support of the AFL-CIO.
This may possibly end with Bob Kroll resigning or being forced out. But the union will remain. And Kroll’s replacement will likely be someone just as willing to shield officers from their destructive acts. Until that entity is gone — or rendered mostly powerless — the abuses that have set this nation on fire will continue.