'Bob Kroll has got to go': Calls grow for Minneapolis police union leader's resignation

Minneapolis Police Federation President Lt. Bob Kroll.
Minneapolis Police Federation President Lt. Bob Kroll speaks with reporters in June 2018. Critics say Kroll is blocking the way to real changes in the culture of the Minneapolis Police Department. However, others contend he is only a symptom of a much deeper cultural problem within the department.
Matt Sepic | MPR News 2018

Demonstrations against police brutality in Minneapolis over the last five years have often included calls for a change at the top of the police federation. But Lt. Bob Kroll's name has been coming up even more often after the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis officers.

On Thursday, civil rights attorney and activist Nekima Levy Armstrong gathered with dozens of other black leaders on the steps of City Hall.

"And we are here in solidarity saying — enough is enough. Bob Kroll has got to go. And he’s got to go now," she said as the others around her cheered.

The group spoke in support of Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who is facing a City Council that recently announced its intention to dismantle the Police Department. 

Hundreds of people gathered in front of the Minneapolis Police Federation headquarters in northeast Minneapolis Friday evening, calling for Kroll to step down.

Arradondo is the person best suited to oppose Kroll's influence, but he's fighting an uphill battle, said Jaylani Hussein, who heads the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

"I want you to understand that Bob Kroll did not come out of thin air,” he said. “Bob Kroll was voted in by the people who are supposed to protect us." 

Since 2003, the city of Minneapolis has paid out more than $45 million in settlements, claims and court judgments for police misconduct lawsuits. Nearly half of that money, $20 million, was paid to the family of Justine Ruszczyk, who was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer who was later convicted of murder. 

Kroll's critics say he's the epitome of the kind of officer Arradondo and chiefs before him have been trying to rid the department of. He's been suspended, demoted and sued multiple times for excessive force.  

Kroll has not responded to requests for comment.

In 2017, he spoke before a committee of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, where he defended officers who are the subjects of multiple misconduct complaints. 

"You show me an officer who's never had a complaint in 30 years and I'll show you an officer that's what we call on the job, a load or a slug — that doesn't do anything," he said. 

Kroll has also made statements which critics characterize as anywhere from racially tone deaf to blatantly racist. 

In 2016, Kroll took issue with the group Black Lives Matter, which helped mobilize thousands of people to protest the police killing of Jamar Clark the year before. Kroll said, "Real black leaders will tell you that this is a terrorist organization that puts out false narratives."  

Accusations of racism dogged Kroll long before he was elected to lead the union. A discrimination lawsuit filed against the department in 2007 by five high-ranking black Minneapolis police officers contained allegations of racism on the part of Kroll. The suit, which was eventually settled for nearly $800,000, alleged that Kroll called then-state Rep. Keith Ellison, who is black and a Muslim, a terrorist. Kroll denied he made the remarks.

The officers who filed the suit, including current Chief Arradondo, also allege Kroll was known to wear a jacket with a white power insignia on it.

During that 2017 civil rights hearing, committee chair Velma Korbel asked him if he cared to respond to allegations that he is a white supremacist. 

"I absolutely deny that,” he said. “That's a statement that reoccurs from time to time. There's absolutely no factual basis for that whatsoever. Never has been."

Attorney John Klassen, who represented Arradondo and the others, said the union shielded white officers like Kroll while it did little to support black officers fighting discrimination.

"They were not of the opinion that the union was going to be of any help, nor the collective bargaining agreement was going to be of any help in addressing and resolving the racial discrimination issues they had with the MPD," Klassen said. 

Lee Edwards, who retired from the Minneapolis Police Department in 2016, was one of the five men who sued the city for discrimination. He said Arradondo has made some improvements to police culture, but he needs help. Edwards said right now, there's a majority of officers who want change, but they keep their heads down and just do their jobs. 

"It's going to take time to change that culture, where those silent officers are feeling free to speak out without retribution from that minority of officers who want to keep it the status quo," Edwards said.

Earlier this week, Arradondo declined to say if Kroll should step down. Nor would he say if he thought Kroll was making it difficult to change police culture. He just said that he's had what he called serious conversations with Kroll and that Kroll is aware of how he feels.

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