The uproar began almost as soon as Lt. Bob Kroll took over as president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis last May, after handily defeating longtime incumbent John Delmonico in the union election.
Civil rights activists and police reformers pounced on his lengthy disciplinary record, which includes civil complaints and lawsuits for wrongful arrest and excessive force. That record, they say, embodies the brash, hard-charging mentality of a rapidly fading era of policing.
The scrutiny intensified last month after Kroll spoke out in defense of the two officers involved in the Nov. 15 killing of Jamar Clark, which triggered weeks of furious protests over police aggression, racial profiling and what some called a racially biased justice system. Kroll later called for a swift, sharp end to the protesters’ blockade of the Fourth Precinct police station, which drew further ire.
His critics gleefully circulated a newspaper article reporting his membership in City Heat, a motorcycle club for police officers, some of whose members, the Anti-Defamation League said, “have openly displayed white supremacist symbols.”
Kroll has denied the characterization and objected to the story, saying it was based on a misleading photograph of some of the club’s members.
Since succeeding Delmonico, under whom he served for years on the union board, Kroll has emerged as a staunch defender of officers, waging a public battle with the powers-that-be at City Hall over the direction of the Police Department and the treatment of its officers.
Several times since the protests began, he has come out and accused city officials of putting officers in danger and bowing to pressure from anti-police protesters in a rush to defuse racial tensions.
In news interviews since the shooting of Clark, Kroll has repeatedly said that the officer, who hasn’t been publicly identified, was justified in firing at Clark after the 24-year-old reached for his partner’s gun — contradicting multiple witnesses who say Clark was handcuffed at the time of the incident.
The outspoken union head also has taken shots at Mayor Betsy Hodges and Chief Janeé Harteau for their handling of the protests.
When city officials have responded to his accusations, as Harteau did when she called in to a radio program last month, Kroll has accused them of not supporting police officers.
“I just think what you’re seeing is more public scrutiny,” said Kroll, who often represented officers accused of misconduct in disciplinary hearings during his years as the union’s second-in-command. “Everybody now seems to know how to do our job better than us.”
His opponents also dredged up several lawsuits, one of which accused Kroll, who spent 15 years on the department’s SWAT team, of using excessive force against an elderly couple during a “no knock” raid at their north Minneapolis home. The case was thrown out by a federal judge.
Mike Spangenberg, a local blogger who writes about social and racial issues, said Kroll’s hard-nosed approach to policing is a vestige of a bygone era. “He represents a really culturally incompetent and racially hostile style of policing,” Spangenberg said.
Last week, several hundred demonstrators marched to the union’s Northeast offices demanding Kroll’s removal; officers filmed the scene from a rooftop across the street.
One of the protesters, Monique Cullars-Doty, whose 24-year-old nephew Marcus Golden was shot and killed by St. Paul police officers earlier this year, accused Kroll of making racist comments about the protesters while in “a position he is paid for. If he wants to be racist, he can do it on his own time and his own dime.”
A look at Kroll’s record
Kroll grew up in a rough-and-tumble, blue-collar neighborhood on St. Paul’s East Side, with a father who was himself a union man. After joining the department in 1989, he worked his way up the ranks, with stints in vice, SWAT and domestic assault. He joined the federation board in 1996.
Kroll was named in a 2007 racial discrimination lawsuit against the department that was brought by five black officers — including current deputy chief Medaria Arradondo — after Kroll reportedly called U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison a terrorist and made disparaging comments about a gay aide to former Mayor R.T. Rybak in front of several other high-ranking commanders.
The plaintiffs, collectively known as the Mill City 5, said the episode, which resulted in Kroll’s suspension, was symptomatic of a culture of racial intolerance and retaliation in the department. Kroll has denied the allegations.
Police personnel records revealed that Kroll had 19 other internal-affairs complaints during his 26 years on the force, all but three of which were closed without discipline. He has been reprimanded once in recent years, and he also was suspended after being accused of using excessive force, records show.
Kroll’s supporters say that he is being unfairly vilified by his critics. Lost in the onslaught of criticism, they say, is Kroll’s work in combating domestic violence.
“He did all he could to help the domestic violence movement,” said Chanel Thomas, a former advocate with the Domestic Abuse Project who worked with him for four of the seven years she was embedded with the Police Department. “They say that you’re in domestic violence because you hate bullies: That’s Bob.”
She added: “He hated that somebody can prey on another person and get away with it.”
Support from rank-and-file
Lt. Mike Sauro, a longtime member of the department, said Kroll seems to have won the support of many rank-and-file officers for his stance on the Fourth Precinct protests.
“I think you’d have a very hard time finding somebody who says he doesn’t speak for me. Sauro said. “You show me a cop who hasn’t been sued and I’ll show you a cop who sits in the office all day.”
Harteau, who also frequently sparred with Kroll’s predecessor, Delmonico, said Kroll’s emergence has brought a new wrinkle in the often-contentious relationship between the police chief and the union that represents the city’s 800-plus rank-and-file officers.
“Certainly, as of late, this has been less about the union and more about Bob Kroll,” Harteau said this week. “His views are not consistent with 21st-century policing, and I would say the best gauge of that is if you talk with some of the younger officers.”
Hodges didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday.