Minneapolis police union head blasts city's riot response in letter to officers

Lt. Bob Kroll sharply criticized the city's handling of violent acts during protests and told the rank-and-file that they were being made "scapegoats"

Libor Janey and Liz Navratil
Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — In his first substantial comments since the killing of George Floyd, outspoken Minneapolis police union president Lt. Bob Kroll blasted the city's handling of the ensuing riots and told the rank-and-file that they were being made "scapegoats" for the violence.

"No one with the exception of us is willing to recognize and acknowledge the extreme bravery you have displayed through this riot," said Kroll's letter, which is channeling the frustration of some officers who feel abandoned by the administration and City Hall. "I commend you for the excellent police work you are doing in keeping your co-workers and others safe during what everyone except us refuses to call a riot. You've turned the tide of the largest scale riot that Minneapolis has ever seen."

He went on to accuse Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, Gov. Tim Walz and other leaders of refusing to "acknowledge the work of MPD and continually shift blame to it."

"It is despicable behavior," Kroll wrote. "How our command staff can tolerate it and live with themselves I do not know."

He continued that he had reached out to Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka to discuss deploying more Minnesota National Guard troops on city streets, and has spoken with other law enforcement leaders across the country to "push our messaging on a national level."

Kroll's letter later surfaced on social media, where it was widely condemned as divisive and rekindled questions for some about whether real reform will ever take root in the city's police force.

Janeé Harteau, a former Minneapolis police chief and frequent sparring partner of Kroll's, called for him to resign from his post.

"A disgrace to the badge! This is the battle that myself and others have been fighting against. Bob Kroll turn in your badge!" Harteau posted on her Twitter account.

Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement that Kroll "remains shockingly indifferent" to the department's efforts to build community relations.

"For a man who complains so frequently about a lack of community trust and support for the police department, Bob Kroll remains shockingly indifferent to his role in undermining that trust and support," he said. "His categorical opposition to reform, his consistent disrespect for civilian leadership, and his lack of empathy for the community have done more to undermine trust in police than any 'community activist' ever has."

Kroll has long been a lightning rod for criticism, both for his unabashed defense of officers accused of misconduct and because critics believe he represents a bygone era of policing.

He joined the department in 1989 and was elected to his first two-year term as union president in 2015, easily defeating longtime incumbent John Delmonico. He next won in another landslide against acting Federation treasurer Cory Fitch before running unopposed in the most recent election this spring.

Kroll was named in a 2007 racial discrimination lawsuit against the department that was brought by five black officers — including current 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. Both Kroll and Arradondo have since said they have settled their differences and agreed to work together for the benefit of the department.

Kroll most recently drew the ire of activists when he joined President Donald Trump onstage at his rally at Target Center last year, shortly after Trump made controversial comments about Somali-Americans. Kroll was also criticized for pointing out the criminal record of Jamar Clark, whose shooting death by a Minneapolis officer in 2015 proved to be another watershed moment in city's history. He also raised the issue of Floyd's criminal record.

Kroll's supporters have said he is misunderstood, and has been unfairly vilified for doing the job of a police union chief advocating for the members.

The fiery lieutenant seemed to suggest that he was directly involved in some of the operations at the Third Precinct before the station was overrun and burned by rioters. He said there were several missteps that might have prevented the station's destruction, noting that reinforcements from the Minnesota National Guard didn't materialize until just after midnight Friday.

He also said that officers weren't allowed to "use gas munitions and less lethal munitions to defend themselves."

"Given the right numbers, the right equipment, and your ability to use them [we] would have ended this Tuesday night," Kroll wrote. "I know this because I've been in charge of three separate riot situations when the police on the ground had the ability to make the tactical decisions to effectively end the situation.

"The politicians are to blame and you are the scapegoats," he said.

Before the letter surfaced, some had questioned why the normally outspoken Kroll had chosen to remain silent since Floyd's killing, outside of a brief statement released to select media.

"Part of the reason myself and your board have been absent is like you we have simply been overworked and overwhelmed," he wrote. "I've had numerous conversations with politicians at the state level."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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