MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The president of the Minneapolis police union, Lt. Bob Kroll, sat down with WCCO’s Jason DeRusha Tuesday and discussed a range of issues following the death of George Floyd in police custody.
Also participating in the interview were directors of the police union Sgt. Anna Hedberg and Officer Rich Walker Sr., as well as vice president and director Sgt. Sherrel Schmidt.
Here’s the interview:
DERUSHA: Bob, George Floyd died a month ago. Why is it taking so long for the union to come together and speak?
KROLL: Well, our members have been under fire, literally. The city’s been in chaos and we wanted time to let officers, you know, restore order, do their jobs out there, try and instill safety in the community. And this wasn’t a big rush for us. We needed, we had higher priorities for our members to deal with.
DERUSHA: You’ve seen the video, you’ve all seen the videos of what happened that night, correct?
DERUSHA: What was your reaction when you saw the video? What video have you seen?
KROLL: The same video others have seen and it’s terrifying. It’s horrible. It’s a tragic event. It should have never happened. You’re not going to find one Minneapolis cop that condones that. Certainly not us.
DERUSHA: What do you mean by that?
KROLL: It should have never happened. It’s unacceptable in our profession, and very regrettable. Tragic situation that should have never happened.
DERUSHA: Are you saying that officer Derek Chauvin handled this wrong?
DERUSHA: What did he do in your mind that’s wrong?
KROLL: Well, I think the video that we’ve all seen speaks for itself. You’ve got a duty to render aid. We didn’t see that. You’ve got people saying, “hey, check him, check him”. You’ve got other officers saying “turn him on his side.”
DERUSHA: Were the other officers derelict in their duties?
KROLL: We have got to wait for some due process and see the rest of this as it plays out. There’s much more. We’ve only seen what’s been shown on television.
DERUSHA: I think some people will be surprised that, earlier, you didn’t take the opportunity to condemn the actions of officer Chauvin. President Trump came out pretty early and said it doesn’t get any more obvious, it doesn’t get any more worse than that. Why the delay?
KROLL: We put a very preliminary statement out. And we were just, we were waiting for more. The process was not followed as in past incidents with our police administration. They shut us off.
DERUSHA: I guess I want to give you the opportunity to be very clear, because I think the chief last night in a statement made the case that this was in fact murder, that officer Chauvin intentionally killed George Floyd and the other officers didn’t intervene. Do you agree with that?
KROLL: From what we’ve seen there, it’s very tough to refute that. But that’s for the criminal justice system to decide.
DERUSHA: Should these four men be police officers right now?
KROLL: Certainly not right now. We’ve got to let the process unfold. That’s not for us to decide. That’s our criminal justice system.
DERUSHA: On 60 minutes, Sunday, the chief blamed the union, the contract, you, for being an impotent to reform, saying you’ll be on the right side of history, the wrong side of history or be left behind. Do you feel that you’re on the wrong side of history that you are blocking reform in the city of Minneapolis?
SCHMIDT: I would say that we’re not. We have always been willing to come to the table and try to discuss changes, come up with ideas. So we’ve always been willing to do that. So I’m not really sure where he’s coming up with these thoughts that we’re blocking reform.
DERUSHA: You really think you’ve always been willing to reform and to make changes the way that city leaders have wanted to that?
SCHMIDT: We’re always willing to have those discussions and work towards a common goal. I would say that with this current city council that has not always happened.
DERUSHA: But it’s different to say you’re willing to have conversations and work towards a common goal when the two sides don’t have a common goal.
WALKER: I’m glad you said that. Because they blamed us and said that we’re not part of reform and there’s systematic changes that need to be made. They can do that through our negotiating process, which our city leader and our chief said he’s stepping away from talking to us. The only thing that the union does, we wish we had half the power that these people think we have, OK, we negotiate wages in our contract. We don’t train officers, we don’t hire officers. We don’t discipline. We only protect the rights that are in our collective bargaining agreement. If the city council in the city attorney would like things in our contract, it’s certainly negotiable. We’ve always had a seat at the table. We never rejected reform. All we want to do is be a part of the process.
DERUSHA: The collective bargaining process clearly an issue, but also the arbitration issue has been raised by many as saying: it is almost impossible to get rid of a bad cop in Minneapolis. Do you agree with that assessment?
KROLL: Not true. And when you dig into the statistics, it doesn’t show that either. It’s quite the contrary. It doesn’t talk about all the cases that we do not file grievances on that are negotiated settlements. And the arbitration law says we are no different than any other public employee union in this arena.
DERUSHA: Although I think people make the case that the arbitrators, like I think a lot of people perhaps up until recent years, gave police a large benefit of the doubt, that police had systemic advantage in these cases versus someone filing a complaint.
WALKER: That’s because they don’t know the process. An arbitrator is a third party who’s not on the side of the city, who’s not on the side of the union, they look at the facts in its entirety. And they make a decision. And almost half the time, they don’t side with us as well, when they find that due process was valid, and they find out that termination of an employee was valid by the administration, they uphold it. I think recently, we’re only at about 50% or 53% arbitration going in our favor. So I think a lot of people have a misconception on what the arbitration process is like, and they need to get more informed on what’s actually happening. Right now, the city leaders are looking for scapegoats. And they’re blaming everything on the process that, I have to mention, they have been a part of since the very beginning. These negotiations last months, sometimes year and a half at a time. They’re at the table. And for them to turn around and blame the union for what happens when somebody does something ill advised or fatal on the street, to turn around and say “that’s the union’s fault.” That’s just absolutely not accurate. It’s not fair, because we’re at the table sitting with them. So, if it’s our fault, they need to accept some responsibility.
DERUSHA: How does an officer like Derek Chauvin remain on the job then?
KROLL: He’s not. We’re not representing him.
DERUSHA: Not now. But prior to this memorial day killing of George Floyd, he had, many, many complaints filed against him.
HEDBERG: And you need to take into consideration who actually investigates those complaints. And you need to take into consideration what the basis of those complaints are. When an officer gets a complaint made against them, it goes to either the MPD’s internal affairs unit or the civilian review. At no point does it come to the union. So, when we talk about officer Chauvin’s, you know, 17, or how many other complaints, those were investigated by the administration or the civilian review, none of it came to us.
SCHMIDT: And only two of those complaints were ever sustained and they were at a coaching level.
KROLL: That’s the big difference, sustained versus not, and that’s, like Anna said, entirely in the hands of the administration and the officer police conduct review. The federation didn’t fight any of the Chauvin cases. There was nothing in there that we had a role in.
HEDBERG: And to further that point. Up until this tragic incident occurred, there were upwards of 45 cases waiting for final discipline at the chief’s level. So, we talked about timeliness. We talk about these bad officers that, you know, the union apparently stops, you know, from getting terminated. There were 45 cases some upwards to almost two years old, sitting at the chief’s office. So I think the breakdown isn’t always on the union. The administration needs to take some responsibility.
DERUSHA: Is the union seriously making the case that you would like to see police administration discipline more police officers more aggressively? That’s what I’m hearing right?
HEDBERG: I’d like them to follow the process, the process that they laid out. There’s officers that have these complaints for years hanging over their head. They just want to see the end. They want to know, every day that they go to work, that they have this complaint hanging over their head. But the administration hasn’t made a final determination. So it could be any day they walk into that door with discipline, they have no idea. I mean, it’s just a shadow hanging over them.
KROLL: Her investigative process and disciplinary process lies totally in the hands of city leaders. We just ensure due process for the members, no different than any other public sector union.
DERUSHA: It’s certainly not how you guys are being portrayed by …
KROLL: Of course not. It’s a false narrative that needs to be corrected. The city is trying to scapegoat the federation, that we’re to blame and this is simply not the case.
DERUSHA: Let’s talk about the perception that the union and specifically you, Bob Kroll, are a racist.
KROLL: Not true.
DERUSHA: There are signs around town that call you “KKK Kroll.” Are you a racist?
KROLL: Not at all. Not true. Again, false narrative. When you run out of arguments to be made, name call. And it’s not factual. There is no basis. And I would like to see someone bring forth some proof because this is absolutely unfounded.
DERUSHA: Well, there’s the lawsuit that was filed. That goes back to, I think 2007 or so. It was the current chief who filed a lawsuit against the department.
KROLL: Not against me. I was not a defendant. I was not named and I was not deposed.
DERUSHA: So there were a couple allegations in the suit though that reference you, right? One allegation that you referred to then Representative Keith Ellison, who was Black and Muslim, as a “terrorist.” Is that true? Did you refer to him as a terrorist?
KROLL: No, it’s not. And thank you for asking, Jason. That is internal affairs case No. 07-06. And I wish that someone in the media would research that from beginning to end and show that I was cleared in that. I did not receive any discipline. All of the other officers interviewed corroborated and, please, research it and end the false narrative.
DERUSHA: You never did call him that?
KROLL: I certainly did not. That is a completed investigation and it’s available for viewing and I wish people would review that rather than keep asking me this question.
DERUSHA: There was also an allegation that you wore this motorcycle jacket with the White power patch.
KROLL: Again, false.
DERUSHA: You’ve never had that jacket?
KROLL: No … I don’t have a jacket with patches on it.
DERUSHA: Were you a part of the City Heat Motorcycle Club?
KROLL: I still am and they do wonderful things. That club has raised nearly a quarter or in excess of a quarter million dollars for officers, families in need over the years, in fact, officers of color.
DERUSHA: People who are speaking out now, and have over the last several years, they portray you and say you’re a racist. And they say you were a violent cop and bring up various disciplinary actions, especially early in your career in ‘94 and ‘95. Is this stuff fair?
KROLL: My record is completely available for viewing and, please again, tell me where I’ve have sustained complaints and received discipline. I have a clear record. There have been allegations, but at the end of the day, I have never received discipline. That’s the key here.
DERUSHA: Because of all of these allegations, are you the right person to be at the lead of the union right now?
KROLL: Well, I’ve been on this board for 24 of my 31 years here, the last five as president. Most of that time, I’ve ran unopposed. I’ve actually polled my membership through this in recent weeks, talked with my board and said, “Is it time that I move on?” And that’s the exact contrary that the feedback that I’ve gotten.
DERUSHA: You don’t feel it’s time that you move on?
KROLL: I’ve asked my members, and they say, “this is the worst time for you to leave.” They want leadership.
SCHMIDT: They want some leadership right now. And they don’t feel like they’re getting it from the front office. And right now, the Federation and Bob are their consistent leadership and they feel like that those are the only people that are standing up for them at this time.
DERUSHA: There are other officers who did send a letter out that said we’re angry about what officer Chauvin did and what you’re hearing from the union isn’t the same as us.
HEDBERG: Well, at the time, you weren’t hearing anything from the union, because we were trying to navigate these completely unchartered waters. The city was burning, the lack of leadership was evident. We were trying to play the situation so it wouldn’t adversely affect the officers that were still out there, day in and day out, trying to keep a little bit of law and order. So the reason that the union didn’t come out, like Bob said earlier, was because we needed to really navigate the waters, so it didn’t make it worse for them.
DERUSHA: Was that a mistake? Wouldn’t it have calmed things in the city if the union would have come forward and said, “this can’t stand. We do not support what we see officer Chauvin doing on this video”?
WALKER: I will say we still stand by our decision to not communicate.
DERUSHA: It’s been a month though.
WALKER: Let me be clear, sir. It was a board decision to not come out, not just president Kroll. We thought by coming out initially, with the anger and hatred that was clearly evident towards our union in our city, that it was only going to fuel the fire for our city to burn, which it did anyway. I can tell you, I want to jump back to your question, saying that people are saying our board is racist. I’m an African American, sir, sitting on our board, on our union, the first-ever elected in our city in 152 years. We’re making progress. My police department, the Minneapolis Police Department, is not racist. Sure, we have some things to gain on as we need to do every day on progress. We have a Black attorney general, we have a Black police chief. I’m on the union as the first Black ever. And our city council is very diverse. It’s easy to throw out systematic racism. It’s easy to throw out that our union’s racist because they’re looking for somebody to blame. We represent 900 cops, various races, White, Black, Asian, Hispanic — we’re not racist. All we do is represent the rights of our members. And I want that to be clear.
DERUSHA: I think a lot of Black Minneapolis residents, White Minneapolis residents would say this is absolute nonsense, you guys are out of touch with the reality that they’re living on the streets of Minneapolis where they feel targeted by police. Not just in the fatal incidents, but in the daily interactions with police, and they say it’s racism.
KROLL: That’s not what we’re hearing from the community. That’s not what we’re hearing from the residents who, unfortunately right now, are in extreme danger, in extreme fear.
DERUSHA: You’re not hearing from residents that…
KROLL: The residents that are out there, that are communicating with our members, our members tell us, 20 to one, they appreciate what they’re doing to try and keep them safe in these times. Twenty to one in favor of the police.
DERUSHA: All right, let me ask you about the letter that you sent to police officers that became public in the letter during the unrest. You refer to a terrorist movement happening in the city. Do you believe Black Lives Matter is a terrorist movement?
KROLL: No. Black lives do matter, and you gotta separate peaceful protests, which we protect the people that peaceful protest. Now, even the governor agrees that there was domestic terrorist activity occurring throughout this. Throughout not just our city, but other cities. And when you look at the damage done, $500 million done, 1,500 businesses destroyed, devastation. Rich and I work the south side. It hurts to drive through and look at what Lake Street looks like now. That could have been contained and our city leaders failed us. They failed the citizens of Minneapolis by making inflammatory remarks, letting the third precinct go. That was a failed leadership. What was not on the Federation.
DERUSHA: What would you guys have done if you were in charge when it came to the 3rd precinct?
KROLL: It starts with having additional officers, which our chief had asked the Mayor for 400 officers and was completely shut down. Our federation has been asking for more officers. How many times did you see the mayor say “we didn’t have the numbers. We didn’t have the numbers.” We needed more mutual aid, we needed the National Guard deployed faster. They could have preserved a lot of that damage. This was failed leadership in the city.
DERUSHA: By the chief or by the mayor?
KROLL: We believe that chief’s hands were tied from above him, that the calls were being made by politicians and not run by the chief and certainly not run by officers on the street — the street leadership.
DERUSHA: Former mayor R.T. Rybak has called you a cancer on this police department. What do you have to say to that?
KROLL: I’ve been on this federation board most of the time as vice president when he was the mayor, he negotiated all these contracts with us. If there was change, he had the opportunity to change it during that time. We don’t just force a contract down the throats of the city. The city’s at the table. We’ve negotiated contracts. If the mayor wanted these changes… no one was in a better position than him to make those changes. And again … I don’t run this board. We have collective decisions. You’re seeing four of the 10 of this board right here. Four of the 10, and we act collectively. I don’t operate in a vacuum. Everything that comes out of my mouth has the support of my board.
DERUSHA: Have you talked with any of the four officers involved in George Floyd’s death
DERUSHA: And what do you say to them?
KROLL: Well, Sherral and I met with officer Chauvin the day after, just as to lay out what our process was. And that was it.
DERUSHA: Did he express regret or remorse?
KROLL: He didn’t really say anything.
SCHMIDT: We just provided him, “here’s what this process looks like. And it’s a lengthy process and you have let the process work its way through.”
DERUSHA: Could you reflect on the fact that many, many people in Minneapolis blame the police, blame the union, for the fact that, in their view, things aren’t changing. That you look at all of the incidents, starting at Jamar Clark, and then Philando Castile wasn’t in your department, but another incident in our area. I think sometimes we focus on the deadly incidents, because those are the ones that shock everyone to pay attention. But from people I talk to it’s that day-to-day interaction where people feel targeted, whether it’s being pulled over because they’re Black, whether it’s a more violent pushing, shoving interaction with police, because of their race. I think that’s what wears people down a little bit. And they blame police, and they especially blame the union. And you guys are telling me that the administration could have done a better job negotiating out of this. Is that right? Do you accept any responsibility in what is going on in the city?
WALKER: We accept no responsibility of what’s going on in our city. Our city leaders are the ones that are making the decisions day in and day out. We only protect our members’ rights. Now, they need to accept some responsibility for the failed leadership, the failed policies and the failure to give us the cops that our chief has asked of them for multiple years. Now, as early as yesterday, you saw our chief and our mayor come out and say we’re getting help from multiple different agencies. So, is the council telling us that it’s OK to accept cops from every other department around the metro area to help with our problem in our city? And that’s OK? But you’re not going to give us the resources to hire more cops to protect our own city? I think we need to look at the view that our cities portraying us, city council and our mayor is, and understand there’s a stark difference in reality, the reality is we need more cops. Over half over half of this council ran on police reform. They’ve openly spoke against our police department. They want to disband us. Look around, look at the shootings, look at the violent crime and how aggressively it spiked. That’s not the union’s fault. That’s failed leadership fault, and we’re not taking accepting any responsibility for their failure to act and protect the citizens of Minneapolis, not only the citizens, the visitors, the business owners, it’s their fault why the city burn, it is not our fault.
KROLL: We don’t hire, we don’t train. We don’t impose discipline.
HEDBERG: It’s not like we can tell the training unit “we don’t like this training, don’t give it to the cops.” Because at the end of the day, they make the decisions and they make us go to the training.
DERUSHA: But when the city decided to not do the warrior-style training, you stepped up and said, well provide the warrior-style training. On a podcast that I listened to recently, you sounded like you were making fun of de-escalation, saying that cops aren’t programmed that way, to back down and back away.
HEDBERG: To the warrior training portion of it. We invited city council to come and have that training as well, so they can understand what it is. I mean, we’re getting lost in the title of that training, because it says warrior training and it’s scary.
DERUSHA: But it is the opposite of de-escalation?
HEDBERG: But it’s not. It’s recognizing the situation you’re in and recognizing what kind of response you have to give to that situation.
DERUSHA: Bob, what do you say about that? About the de-escalation?
KROLL: We invited all of the city council and the mayor and community members, some community members attended it, to give them a better understanding of what that truly was. And it’s a bad label. That’s it. It’s survival training. And if they would have taken the time to attend — free on us, lunch provided — they chose not to. City leaders.
DERUSHA: Bob, you don’t live in the city of Minneapolis. Only 8% of officers live in the city. Should that change?
HEDBERG: If I could take that. Let’s also be honest, the chief doesn’t live in the city either. So should it change? I don’t think so. I mean, at the end of the day, if we live in this city, that means we have to shop where criminals that we arrest also shop and, I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to go to Cub Foods with my two beautiful little girls and run into somebody that I’ve arrested for sex assault, shooting somebody, using heroin. I don’t need to put my children in that kind of danger.
DERUSHA: Minneapolis police arrest people from all over the state, though. It’s not like you’re hidden from that potential encounter.
HEDBERG: But it’s more likely because the residents that we do arrest, the people we do arrest, predominantly live in Minneapolis. So, it’s our choice, right? I mean, we’re still U.S. citizens.
DERUSHA: Give us one reform, one change that’s been talked about, that the union would support.
KROLL: We’re willing to sit down and talk about any reforms brought to us. We’re not the ones calling for reform. We’ve always had a seat at the table. We’ve always offered a seat at the table. Police Community Relations Council went on for years. Our federation board was at the table there. Our members are at the table on behalf of the federation. We’re open. We’re wide open to have the talk.
In an interview with CBS This Morning’s Gayle King early Tuesday, Kroll responded to comments made by Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who said the union and Kroll is a barrier to reform.
“We will be on the right side of history,” Kroll told King. “There’s a false narrative out there that we appeal and fight all discipline and win it, and that’s simply not true.”
When asked about the actions of ex-officer Derek Chauvin, who is charged with second-degree murder in Floyd’s fatal Memorial Day arrest, Kroll said that the union has yet to see the body camera video of the incident. While he called the cellphone video that sparked outrage around the world “horrific,” he said that the body camera video may provide “more to the story.”
WCCO-TV anchor/reporter Liz Collin is married to Bob Kroll. To avoid any potential conflict of interest, Liz has not reported on Minneapolis Police and Minneapolis Police Union issues for at least two-and-a-half years.