Minneapolis LEOs banned from wearing uniforms to political events

Police union members have expressed frustration with the ban's timing, believe partisan motives at play

Paul Walsh
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Newly imposed restrictions preventing Minneapolis police officers from appearing in uniform in support of candidates at political events or advertisements have the head of the officers' union alleging partisan motives based on the timing of the move.

Lt. Robert Kroll, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, said Monday that news of the ban was given to him Friday, one day after President Donald Trump announced an Oct. 10 rally at Target Center, and after Jacob Frey's statement that Trump was unwelcome in the city.

Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis President Lt. Robert Kroll said his members are "outraged" over the new ban. (Photo/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)
Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis President Lt. Robert Kroll said his members are "outraged" over the new ban. (Photo/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

"My members are outraged," Kroll said in a televised interview Sunday with Fox News. "A lot of them want to be there; they want to be in the backdrop, have an opportunity to meet him. He's shown that he's a very pro-law enforcement president."

Kroll said that when former President Bill Clinton made a public appearance to lobby for his crime bill in 1994, uniformed officers were part of the setting, with some there "against their will."

Officers also wore uniforms in 2013, when Democratic President Barack Obama came to Minneapolis and spoke to an invitation-only audience about gun violence at the Police Department's Special Operations Center in north Minneapolis.

The outright ban on police in uniform in political ads or visibly positioned at events was put in place by the Police Department with Mayor Jacob Frey's approval. The shift had been under consideration since early this year.

Neither Frey nor Police Department leadership immediately responded questions about the need for the ban, said whether it took effect before or after Trump's visit was announced and whether the president's trip played a role in the restriction being imposed.

The new policy reads in total: "No employee shall make appearances in political advertisements while wearing the MPD uniform, or cause MPD trademarks to appear in political advertisements or be used in any other way that could lead a reasonable person to believe the MPD is endorsing a political party, candidate or campaign." However, Zoss said that uniformed deputies might be positioned at the request of the Secret Service behind Trump while the president speaks, but he called that possibility unlikely.

It supplants the previous policy, which allowed for some exceptions and advance notification: "At no time, shall any sworn employee appear in the MPD uniform in any media advertisement for political candidates, with the exception of the current elected Police Federation officials or their designee."

Further, it reads, advertisements must identify the federation official with a disclaimer that it is not an endorsement by the MPD. Chief Medaria Arradondo must be notified in advance as well.

Kroll said he suspects partisan politics at play, especially in light of Frey's unvarnished disgust with Trump coming to Minneapolis.

Frey pointed out last week that since Trump has taken office, his actions "have been reprehensible and his rhetoric has made it clear that he does not value the perspectives or rights of Minneapolis' diverse communities.

"While there is no legal mechanism to prevent the president from visiting, his message of hatred will never be welcome in Minneapolis," Frey's statement said.

Hennepin County Sheriff's Office spokesman Jeremy Zoss said deputies are not allowed to appear in uniform for political activities, such as ads or campaign events.

Police in uniform in connection with politicking has created conflict at various times in recent years. In 2018, Kroll appeared in uniform at a re-election rally for Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, who lost his re-election bid in the west suburban district.

DFLers argued that Kroll violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits state and local officers from engaging in partisan political activity. A police spokeswoman said in the department's view, Kroll's actions were not inappropriate.

A month earlier, Kroll was criticized by Frey and several City Council members after he and other uniformed officers appeared in a campaign mailing from Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Pawlenty calling for a crackdown on illegal immigration.

In the Fox interview Sunday, Kroll explained that Republican candidates enjoy the support of he and others in law enforcement because DFL officials "have turned their backs on police and many other working people. ... We really embrace what the administration has done for law enforcement. Under the Obama administration, there was an anti-police rhetoric like you would not believe."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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