Bob Kroll, the incendiary Minneapolis police lieutenant whose role as president of the Minneapolis Police Federation made him a lightning rod in the debate over race and policing, announced plans Monday to retire from the department.
Kroll, 58, who was already eligible for retirement, will leave the force at the end of the month, he said in a letter to federation members. His retirement comes nearly eight months after the death of George Floyd in police custody, an incident that generated weeks of protests and calls for the defunding, or even abolishment, of the state's largest police force. It also comes amid continuing fallout from the siege on the U.S. Capitol last week by supporters of President Donald Trump, whom Kroll has aligned himself with publicly.
In the letter, obtained by the Star Tribune, Kroll says that he initially planned to retire in May, but "after reviewing the bigger picture, it is in my family's best interest for me to retire four months early."
Kroll's second-in-command at the Police Federation, Sgt. Sherral Schmidt, is expected to serve out the rest of his term. Kroll did not respond to a message seeking comment.
"Most difficult for me as I made this decision was to see how our noble profession has been demonized. The toughest part of the job was witnessing the scrutiny and criticism [we] as professionals have endured from those who do not walk in our shoes. Yet these people turned into self-proclaimed experts into every aspect of our line of work," he wrote. "The low point of my career has been watching this occur over the last three decades and how weak administrations pandered to armchair quarterbacks and didn't fight for hardworking public servants who wear the badge."
Kroll often clashed with chiefs and mayors alike, including current Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who tweeted an article about Kroll's departure and wrote: "Good riddance."
Frey said Kroll's departure will "create an opportunity for the incoming union leadership to improve its relationship" with City Hall and police administration.
Although it makes no mention of recent events, Kroll's retirement announcement comes less than a week after a mob of pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol in attempts to disrupt Congress' certification of Joe Biden's presidential victory. Kroll, an outspoken Trump supporter, appeared on stage with him at a Minneapolis campaign rally at the Target Center in late 2019.
Kroll joined the department in 1989 and was elected to his first two-year term as union president in 2015.
In a radio interview in August, Kroll said that public backlash had persuaded him to stay with the department, despite having reached retirement age.
"Now these people are causing me to stay, because I can't make it look like they're chasing me out. I've never backed away from a fight in my life," he said. "The same people who want me gone so bad, from the protesters to the mayor to the City Council to the governor, now they're getting me stuck here longer, so the joke's on you."
In recent months, critics from Frey to Gov. Tim Walz have pointed to the politically influential union as a significant roadblock to reforming the department. Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo cited the union's resistance to reforms for his decision to withdraw from police contract negotiations. The city has since returned to the bargaining table. A Star Tribune/MPR News/KARE 11 poll from last year found that nearly 80% of residents believe the union has too much influence over the disciplining of officers accused of misconduct.
Greg Hestness, a former Minneapolis deputy police chief, said the time might be right for "new leadership," particularly as Kroll's relationship has deteriorated with the chief. He said whoever is picked to be the next president will say a lot about the direction of the department.
"When he was reelected, I thought that said a lot about the culture in the department at that moment, and the next election might be another test of it, after they've endured the death of George Floyd and the riots, and the dismissal of them by the City Council — maybe they're looking for a new approach," Hestness said. "New leadership is always healthy after a long time."
Kroll said in a 2019 Star Tribune profile that he intended to step down when his term ended this spring and hand over leadership to Schmidt, his longtime No. 2. A special election may follow at some point.
Critics say that in some ways Kroll has come to embody an aggressive style of policing that has fallen out of favor. But they also question whether removing Kroll from office would automatically lead to changes, pointing out that many of the department's problems predate his tenure with the federation.
But while many of the officers who elected Kroll also likely share his worldview, others may have voted for someone who they felt would support them at a time when law enforcement is under scrutiny like never before.
According to the Office of Police Conduct Review, Kroll is the subject of three open complaints, which will be closed once he retires.
Staff writers Abby Simons, Paul Walsh and Liz Navratil contributed to this report.