REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo
- Chief Medaria Arradondo, who leads the Minneapolis police department and is the officer responsible for the death of George Floyd, once sued the city and the department, alleging racial discrimination.
- As the city’s first black police chief, Arradondo has attempted to introduce meaningful reform and lessen excessive force — but he’s met with resistance from the rank-and-file police union and its bombastic leader, Bob Kroll.
- Criminal justice experts say police unions impede meaningful reform in Minneapolis and other city police departments.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
United States District Court, District of Minnesota, Fourth Division
In 2007, a group of five black police officers, each with more than a dozen years on the job, sued Minneapolis’ police department for racial discrimination.
Officer Medaria Arradondo and his colleagues stated in the suit that they had faced retaliation since joining the department, like in 1992, when they received a letter from interoffice mail signed with “KKK.”
Among other things, the black cops’ suit claimed that white officer Bob Kroll, who joined the police force the same year as Arradondo, called then-US Congressman Keith Ellison, who is a black Muslim, a “terrorist.”
But thirteen years later, Kroll and Arradondo are at odds again over racism.
Arradondo now serves as Minneapolis’ police chief, whose officer was shown killing George Floyd in a now-notorious video that sparked a nationwide uprising. And Kroll is the head of the local police union that has defended the officers involved in Floyd’s death.
(Keith Ellison, who Kroll is said to have slandered, is now Minnesota’s Attorney General, currently bringing charges against Arradondo’s officers and Kroll’s union members.)
Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images
Arradondo and Kroll represent two sides of a police force grappling with decades of brutal episodes and just as many years of strained relations with black residents.
Their ongoing headbutting also reveals an exceptional aspect of the labor movement in the US. Progressives laud unions as the voice of the America’s increasingly black and brown working class. But criminal justice experts told Business Insider that police unions protect aggressive cops, buttressing the underlying system of police brutality in the US.
This MPD story is a case study in how a city’s police union leader can disregard the actions of a chief that are designed to crack down on bad cops.
Both the union and MPD declined to comment.
Minneapolis police chiefs have been pushing for reform — but the union won’t let it happen
Though Arradondo called out Kroll’s bad behavior in his lawsuit years ago, the union leader has generally spoken well of his chief: “He’s the opposite of a narcissist,” Kroll told the Star Tribune. “This is truly about advancing this department.”
Still, the two have sparred over key police reform policies.
In 2014, when Arradondo was serving as chief of staff to former Police Chief Janée Harteau, he helped introduce a police body camera policy to hold bad cops accountable. Many city departments began using body cameras around 2014, after the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
Kroll initially supported body cameras, telling MinnPost his only objection was if civilians disagreed with being taped at protests or disturbances.
But he changed course in 2017, after a police officer shot and killed a white Australian woman in an alley; the officer’s body camera was turned off at the time of the shooting. Kroll said the officers at the scene “were in compliance with existing body camera policy.”
After the killing, Arradondo changed the body camera policy to ensure they stayed turned on. “There are some officers, quite frankly, that are not using them nearly enough,” he told the New York Times.
The two sparred again in 2019, after Arradondo moved to bar police from wearing their uniforms to political rallies ahead of a scheduled visit from President Trump. Kroll had previously been photographed in full uniform standing at a rally for Republican representative Erik Paulsen. The US Hatch Act limits the political activity of federal employees as well as certain state-level employees that work in connection with federal programs, like Kroll.
Kroll called Arradondo’s decision “politically motivated.” Kroll said of police union’s members that “We’re going to be there in full force, in T-shirts, letting people know that off-duty officers do have support for our president.”
The disagreements between the two have now gone national. Arradondo swiftly fired the four officers involved in George Floyd’s arrest, and suggested that the officers who watched Floyd struggling to breathe should have intervened.
“Mr. Floyd died in our hands and so I see that as being complicit,” Arradondo told CNN’s Sara Sidner. “Silence and inaction, you’re complicit.”
Kroll disagreed. In a letter addressed to union members, Kroll said the officers were “scapegoats” and had been fired “without due process.”
“What has been very evident throughout this process is you have lacked support from the top,” Kroll told members. “This terrorist movement that is currently occuring was a long time build up which dates back years.”
ayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Kroll was an obstacle to the chief before Arradondo, too
Bob Kroll got his start in the Minneapolis police department in 1989. The son of a union man, Kroll joined the Minneapolis Police Federation in 1996.
The Star Tribune reports that during his tenure, Kroll has amassed at least 20 internal-affairs complaints against him, some for aggressive behavior. In one federal lawsuit, plaintiffs said Kroll beat, choked, and kicked a 15-year-old biracial boy in the groin while spewing racial slurs, the Pioneer Press reported. The court cleared Kroll of wrongdoing. Another suit from 2007 claimed Kroll and a group of officers used excessive force on an elderly couple during a SWAT team search.
As union chief, Kroll has protected other aggressive officers in his ranks. The union leader stood up for officer Steven Andersen, who was fired for killing a 19-year-old Hmong teenager during a foot chase. After the police department reinstated Andersen, Kroll said he was “very happy” because Andersen was “born to be a cop,” the Pioneer Press reported.
After taking his role as union head in 2015, Kroll frequently sparred with then-Police Chief Janeé Harteau, who between 2012 and 2017 was the first female and first openly gay police chief in Minneapolis history, before getting ousted from her post following a police killing. Harteau was, however, able to enact a “sanctity of life” policy after the Clark shooting, which was the policy cited by Arradondo in firing the officers involved in Floyd’s death.
The Philando Castile shooting in 2016, which occurred outside of Minneapolis, in Falcon Heights, became a Kroll story when he said he commended four off-duty officers walking out of their security duties at a Minnesota Lynx WNBA game. Minneapolis’ mayor at the time, Betsy Hodges, said Kroll’s words were “jackass remarks” that didn’t reflect the views of the city or the MPD.
Kroll also publicly pushed back on policy changes Harteau introduced to reduce the use of force by police. He said her initiatives, which included avoiding potentially deadly confrontation, may lessen public trust in police and lead to more crime.
In a leaked email, City Pages reported that Harteau told Kroll not to wear his uniform while speaking as the labor union representative. “This letter is a reminder as well as a direct order that you wear your MPD uniform only for MPD-sanctioned purposes,” she wrote in 2016. “MPD-sanctioned purposes’ does not include speaking in your capacity as a labor union representative.”
After Harteau departed, Kroll continued to oppose reform measures, including an initiative by Mayor Jacob Frey to ban “warrior-style” training for officers.
Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images
Unlike Minneapolis’ union leader, the city’s police chief built his reputation on improving community relations
When Arradondo succeeded Harteau as chief in 2017, he was the first black person to head the Minneapolis Police Department in its 150-year history, the Star Tribune reported. He has continued to stress that he hoped to improve race relations at his position — but has met with resistance from the rank and file.
Arradondo served different supervisory positions before being promoted to oversee the internal affairs unit, which oversees misconduct complaints, in 2013, and then serving as Harteau’s chief of staff in 2014. He vowed to improve police relationships within the community.
“For us to advance any of our policies or measures which are really aimed at increasing public safety of our city, I think all of those are important key players,” Arradondo said of civilians, public officials, and the department’s rank-and-file.
“They all have to be at the same table, and they all have to hear the same messaging,” he told Minnesota Public Radio. “They all, also, have to be listened to. That’s where I see my role.”
Arradondo had climbed the ranks after settling his racial discrimination case against the department in 2009, coming away with $187,000. (The plaintiffs collectively reached a settlement of $740,000.) When he brought the suit along with other black officers, Arradondo was already a 20-year veteran of the MPD.
Among other things, the lawsuit asserted that Kroll used to wear a motorcycle jacket with a “White Power” badge sewn onto it. Kroll is part of the City Heat motorcycle club for off-duty police officers, which has been cited by the Anti-Defamation League for including members that display white power symbols.
Police unions have something rare in American organized labor: power over management
In the private sector, union membership has declined by 15% over the last two decades.
But in the public sector, union membership has remained strong due to a lack of competition, according to Dan DiSalvo of the Manhattan Institute. Since there is just one public police unit for a given jurisdiction, police management can’t easily fire and replace swaths of fractious cops like private firms can.
Sam Walker, emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said police unions largely formed in the 1950s and 1960s for the purpose of collectively bargaining for pensions and healthcare. Before unions, police hiring was often corrupt, involving bribes and political kickbacks.
But in addition to advocating for higher wages, unions also sought to protect job security by limiting disciplinary transparency. Reuters examined 82 police union contracts across the US and found nearly half allow officers to access complaints before being interrogated. A majority of them call to erase disciplinary records to make it harder to fire officers with bad records.
“I think there’s a consensus among my peers that police unions and their contracts are to police the major obstacle to accountability,” Walker said.
In Minneapolis, Reuters found that nine out of every 10 accusations of misconduct from city police officers were resolved without punishment. Of the 3,000 complaints regarding police in the last eight years, just five resulted in termination.
African-Americans account for 20% of Minneapolis’ population but for more than 60% of the victims in police shootings, according to an analysis from The New York Times. The city’s own data shows that its police officers use force against blacks seven times more than they do against whites.
Kroll admits he is no stranger to shooting. In a podcast interview this past April, Kroll said he has been involved in “three shootings” himself, The Intercept reported.
In a potential sign of the growing frustration with police unions’ suppression of meaningful reform, protesters after George Floyd’s death burned the headquarters of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) in Washington, DC.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters he would not disengage with police unions. “The short answer is not to disengage and just condemn,” he said.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Brooklyn College sociologist Alex Vitale, author of “The End of Policing” and former vice president of a faculty union, told Business Insider that the labor movement should limit police unions and expose their “terrible politics.” Vitale said the broader labor movement has lost its broader mission to aid social justice, which allowed AFL-CIO to cozy up with police unions.
“One of the functions historically of police has been the direct suppression of workers’ movements and unionization efforts,” Vitale told Business Insider. “Having them be part of our labor movement seems counter-productive.”
During his election campaign, current Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey acknowledged the role the police union played in protecting members from getting disciplined for aggressive behavior. “They’re looking at their job as often unions do: Let’s protect our officers from getting terminated,” Frey said during a 2017 meeting on police reform. “I believe that the role is broader than that.”
Kroll, meanwhile, has tied good police-work with accumulating civilian complaints.
“Officers that have thick complaint sleeves are also highly decorated,” Kroll told the Pioneer Press in 2016. “Cops that are doing nothing are cheating the taxpayers. And I’ve always prided myself in being a hard-working cop, and my union work is no different.”
And the department led by Medaria Arradondo, the one he sued more than a decade ago for racial discrimination?
Last summer, his department had to fire two officers over a furor that hit the previous winter. What Mayor Frey described as a “racist display” had surfaced on Facebook around the holiday season: a photo of a Christmas tree at the department’s fourth precinct, some 20 minutes from what would become the site of George Floyd’s killing, decorated with a can of Steel Reserve malt liquor, a pack of Newport cigarettes, and a cup from Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen.
The police union appealed.