If you’re a sports fan and the name Bob Kroll sounds familiar, it should.
Kroll, the President of the Minneapolis Police Officers Federation, is under heavy scrutiny now that the record of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) is garnering national attention following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin and three other officers.
On Monday, a letter Kroll wrote to MPD officers surfaced. In it, Kroll called George Floyd a man with a “violent criminal history” and praised officers for their handling of the unrest that grips the city, writing, “No one with the exception of us is willing to recognize and acknowledge the extreme bravery you have displayed through this riot. 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.”
But back in 2016, it was Kroll who orchestrated and praised the four MPD officers who walked out of their security positions after the Minnesota Lynx appeared in T-shirts with the words “Black Lives Matter” emblazoned on the front.
“We wanted it to be thoughtful and inclusive,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve told Deadspin about the team’s group decision to speak out. “We actually last-minute included the Dallas PD shield (following the shooting deaths of five police officers in Dallas). Again, trying to encompass all that was happening, and the need for change. I was a part of the planning and empowering. And we also planned a press conference. This wasn’t about just wearing a shirt, and not explaining. It was about standing up and what’s needed.”
Sometimes during the Lynx’s pregame routine, the director of security of the Target Center found Reeve in the locker room and told her that the police detail had decided to walk out because of the shirts the team was wearing.
“I wanted the opportunity to talk with the officers. I asked for a meeting before they left,” Reeve said. “I wanted to share with them what our purpose was, what each thing meant, and that we certainly did not want an alienation of police officers. We wanted them to be part of the conversation.
“And they declined. They declined the conversation. I wanted to understand why they would do that. And it was because Black Lives Matter was on the shirt.”
While Kroll was not at the Target Center that night, Reeve and others believe the MPD walkout took place at Kroll’s suggestion, if not his direction. “From there,” Reeve said, “it was Bob Kroll attacking. This was certainly at the direction of Bob’s role (as President of the Police Federation) that those officers walked out. And then he followed up with the continued marginalization of our women. He basically said there were only (4) officers on detail because the Minnesota Lynx crowds are so pathetic.”
Kroll “commended” the officers for the walkout and vowed the MPD would no longer serve as security detail for the Lynx unless the team rescinded their support for Black Lives Matter, Philando Castile, and Alton Sterling, whose names also appeared on the Lynx’s shirts. Following the police killing of Jamar Clark in 2015, Kroll called Black Lives Matter a “terrorist organization,” after the group led 18 days of protests over Clark’s death and the failure to charge the officers responsible.
Kroll’s remarks about the Lynx earned an immediate rebuke from then-Mayor Betsy Hodges, who fired off a quick response on Facebook:
You see, Bob Kroll doesn’t just criticize those who stand up to him. He seeks to destroy them.
Kroll doesn’t run the MPD, at least not officially. But he is a looming presence that a succession of mayors and police chiefs in Minneapolis have struggled to deal with. Kroll’s power to make or break reform efforts within the department is an open secret in Minneapolis, with several civic leaders speaking out about his outsize influence in the wake of the criminal charges filed against the four officers responsible for Floyd’s death.
“He was always a force dividing the police community here,” former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak told Deadspin. His election (as president of the police union) sent a powerfully negative signal to the community.”
On Monday, Rybak went on WCCO radio in the Twin Cities and wasted no time telling the world what he thinks of Kroll.
“We’ve never had a person leading the Federation who is as bombastic, who is as overtly racist, who is as likely to provide comfort to someone when they do something wrong, who is as central to that toxic culture as Bob Kroll,” Rybak said. “And it is time to name names. Bob Kroll is a cancer on this police department; on this city.”
Before taking over the MPD union, which boasts nearly 900 members, Kroll’s 30-year career as a police officer was riddled with disciplinary rulings and allegations of brutality and abuse. In an interview with Stim Radio in April, Kroll revealed that he’d been involved with three police shootings, saying “Not one of them has bothered me.”
In 1994, Kroll was suspended for excessive use of force, but that suspension was subsequently overturned by then police chief John Laux. In 1995, Kroll was sued in federal court for allegedly beating, choking and kicking a 15-year-old bi-racial boy in the groin while yelling racial slurs, but was cleared by a federal jury.
In 2002, the city paid out $60,000 to a Native American family after Kroll led a “no-knock” raid on their home that allegedly led to the assault and humiliation of the family while he and other officers searched the house for more than three hours. During the raid, the officers hit a man in the head with the butt of a rifle and caused him serious injury.
In 2003, Kroll was demoted for three months following complaints about his conduct.
In 2004, he was suspended for 20 days by the Civilian Review Board for attacking a pedestrian while off duty because the man brushed up against the car Kroll was sitting in with a friend. One month later, while sitting in a department ethics class no less, Kroll called Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who is heading up the prosecution of the officers who killed George Floyd “a terrorist.” At the time Ellison, who is black and a Muslim, was serving as the congressional representative for Minnesota’s 5th District.
In 2006, Kroll was accused of beating and kicking a suspect in an impound lot.
By the time Kroll took over the MPD union in 2015, he had racked up 20 complaints with internal affairs and four letters of reprimand and was the subject of multiple Internal Affairs investigations. Only three complaints resulted in discipline.
Allegations that Kroll is a racist and white supremacist have long-circulated in Minneapolis. Kroll is the member of an off-duty police officer motorcycle club called “City Heat,” which was cited by the Anti-Defamation League in its 2011 report on white supremacy and motorcycle gangs. The ADL wrote:
“Even the City Heat Motorcycle Club, an off-duty police motorcycle club with chapters in Chicago and Minneapolis, has members who have openly displayed white supremacist symbols. Photographs of City Heat members taken by other club members and posted to the Internet have shown that some members of the club display a number of symbols on their clothing that have white supremacist or hateful connotations. One member sports a patch that asks ‘Are you here for the hanging?’— a reference to lynching. The lynching theme is corroborated by a small chain noose the individual wears next to the patch. Another City Heat member displays the most common Ku Klux Klan symbol, the so-called ‘Blood Drop Cross.’ Several members wear ‘Proud to be White’ patches, an item typically worn by white supremacists.”
Kroll has denied the allegations he pals around with white supremacists, saying alternately that the men photographed were from other chapters and that the “Hang ’Em High In The Street” patches were misinterpreted lyrics from a Toby Keith song.
But in a 2005 federal lawsuit, five Minneapolis police officers, including current Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, cited Kroll’s involvement in City Heat, as well as his use of racial slurs, in their allegations of a hostile and racist work environment within the MPD. The lawsuit also alleged that Kroll had a white supremacist symbol sewn into the lining of his City Heat jacket.
Until last week, Minneapolis appears to have been resigned to living with Bob Kroll. But George Floyd’s murder, which Kroll suggested in a letter to MPD officers was justified, and in which he called Floyd a “violent criminal” and protestors “organized terrorists,” may finally have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Former police chief Janeé Harteau, who had a contentious relationship with Kroll during her time in office, called on Kroll to resign, tweeting out “This is a battle that myself and others have been fighting against.”
The following day, Minneapolis City Councilman Steve Fletcher echoed Harteau’s sentiment, tweeting that the city had been unable to reform MPD because of an “implied threat” hanging over their heads and saying that those who stood up to Kroll and MPD found that the police response times in their wards slowed to a crawl:
City council member Phillipe Cunningham retweeted Fletcher’s comments, stating he had similar experiences with his constituents after trying to take on MPD. In a long Twitter thread pondering the future of MPD, Fletcher went so far as to suggest the entire force might need to be disbanded and rebuilt from the ground up.
Rybak told Deadspin he decided to call Kroll out publicly because no one else had. “I have hoped that police officers would publicly criticize him as they have privately to me. Seeing that wasn’t happening, I felt it was important to let this whole community know the toxic role he plays and for the officers to know their silence right now is deafening. Thankfully that’s beginning to change.”
And therein lies the rub. Despite multiple efforts to reform the MPD, Kroll runs the show. When current Mayor Jacob Frey banned so-called “warrior training,” which has been nationally criticized as “fear-based” and encouraging police to escalate situations that lead to violence, Kroll decided the union would provide the training, which costs some $55,000, per year to MPD officers free of charge. And while Kroll has been denounced by a few civic leaders in recent days, he won his most recent election by officers by a vote of 423-184, begging the question of what kind of leadership MPD has chosen for itself and whether the department can be salvaged.
“People sometimes win elections by giving simple answers to complex questions and always blaming others,” Rybak said. “This country and our police need to stop following demagogues who refuse to acknowledge our need to change.”
The Lynx’s Cheryl Reeve wants MPD officers to take a hard look in the mirror.
“This is someone who has been elected by the membership to be their leader and to be their voice,” she says. “For these officers, it’s a reflection of them. So it’s one of two things: Either there aren’t as many good officers as we’d like to think there are . . . or there’s a level of intimidation tactics that occurs.”
If you’re wondering where Kroll’s political affiliations lie, he appeared on stage with President Donald Trump in 2019, wearing a “Cops for Trump” shirt. He went on to sell the shirts and reportedly made $100,000 in a matter of days.
But after years of bullying the city and reformers, the tide may finally be turning for Bob Kroll. On Wednesday, Bill McCarthy, the head of the Minneaota ALF-CIO called for Kroll’s resignation, saying, “I believe he really perpetuates a culture of violence towards people of our community, members of the black community and really all people of color. He’s setting the tone, he’s setting this culture of violence against his citizenry among the ranks and so he needs to go.”
Five other major unions, including Education Minnesota, SEIU Minnesota, and the Minnesota Nurses Association all issued statements supporting the AFL-CIO. Additionally, Kroll’s ability to set the narrative in the media is being called into question, following revelations that he’s married to WCCO reporter Liz Collin, who appears to have reported on police and safety matters after the couple began dating and eventually married.
Since Floyd’s death, the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Public Schools have cut ties with MPD. Calls for pro sports teams, like the Timberwolves and Vikings, to do the same have grown louder. Will MPD officers continue to stand by Kroll as opportunities for lucrative side gigs dry up?
Meanwhile, the drumbeat calling for Kroll’s resignation continues to grow.
As for Kroll himself, the once defiant union head isn’t responding to media requests for comment. In fact, Kroll called the police on a Washington Post reporter who knocked on his door, accusing the reporter of “suspicious activity.”
“I don’t want any press,” Kroll said.