MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – The ardent leader of the Minneapolis Police Union has built a reputation for defying the city long before providing the union with full support for the officers charged with the death of George Floyd.
When the mayor banned “warrior training” for officers last year, Lt. Bob Kroll said the union would offer the training instead. When the city prevented officers from wearing uniforms at political events, he had T-shirts made to support President Donald Trump. He praised off-duty officers who walked away from a safety detail after players on the state’s professional women’s basketball team, the Minnesota Lynx, wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts. And after Floyd’s death, he did not hold back when he called urban unrest a “terrorist movement.”
As Minneapolis tries to overhaul his police station after Floyd’s death, city leaders will clash with a belligerent and powerful union that has long resisted such changes. But that union and Kroll are coming under greater pressure than ever before, with some members daring to speak out for change and police leaders vowing to negotiate a harder contract on bad agents.
Other unions have publicly called for Kroll to be removed, while polls show that more Americans are shifting their views on police brutality and believe that offenders are being treated too leniently.
“People recognize that these can’t just be half-baked measures and tinker with policy reforms. What we’re talking about now is attacking a complete culture shift in how police forces operate in Minneapolis and the rest of the country,” said Mayor Jacob Frey .
Floyd, a handcuffed black man, died on May 25 after a white officer, Derek Chauvin, used his knee to knock Floyd to the ground. Chauvin has been charged with first-degree murder, first-degree murder and manslaughter. Three other officers were charged with complicity in murder and manslaughter.
All four officers were fired, but Kroll issued a statement saying they had full union support and warned of a swift decision.
The Minnesota AFL-CIO and some of the state’s largest unions called for Kroll to stop. Kroll, who plans to step down when his term ends in 2021, according to the Star Tribune, has not responded to interview requests.
Floyd’s death sparked outrage in Minneapolis and beyond as protests erupted around the world amid emphatic calls for police reform. In Minneapolis, the first steps towards the union have long been seen as a barrier. Chief Medaria Arradondo said he would withdraw from union contract negotiations to consider structural changes, and Frey calls on legislators to institute an arbitration process that he says will undo about half of the state’s police terminations .
In an interview on Sunday at “60 minutes,” Arradondo said Kroll is “absolutely … an influencer.”
“He and others will have to consider whether they will be on the right side of history or that they will be on the wrong side of history … or that they will be left behind,” said the chief. . .
One of the union’s victories happened in 2007 when she persuaded the city to curtail the power of the Minneapolis Civilian Review Authority by hiding from the public a finding that a complaint had been made against an officer.
Union power has consistently hampered change, community leaders say.
“It makes it very difficult to implement reforms when … the federation in the background says, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll file a complaint,'” said Steve Fletcher, one of nine city council members who promised to renew the law enforcement. “That sends a strong signal that you can just ignore leadership. Over time, it has created a culture that is very resistant to change.”
When the city council refused to expel additional officers to the streets last year, Fletcher described pushing back police as a “protection racket.” He said entrepreneurs started calling him to complain that agents were delaying response times or not solving problems, and companies were calling their councilors.
Police unions across the country are considered equally powerful and provide protection to officers charged with crimes, including special privileges, such as allowing them to wait 24 hours to be interrogated. They have also fought against making public misconduct claims, and historically, lawmakers have been reluctant to fight them for fear of being seen as anti-police.
There are signs that the power of police unions is waning. In New York, lawmakers passed the party rules to a reform bill for the country’s largest division and for others, making major changes to union-maligned officers.
In Minneapolis, 14 officers signed an open letter condemning Chauvin saying they are “ready to listen and embrace the calls for change, reform and reconstruction.” The move was seen as a major problem for a police department, where such public disagreement is rare.
A recent survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that, compared to five years ago, more Americans believe that police brutality is a very serious problem unequally targeting black Americans. The poll also found that Americans are now much more likely than five years ago to say that police officers who cause injury or death at work are treated too leniently by the justice system.
Allen Berryman, a retired police sergeant and president of the union for most of the 1990s, said the union is doing its job.
“People like the idea of a fair trial when they are arrested … or something, but they don’t seem to like it” for officers, he said, adding that a lack of progressive discipline by management is part of the issue.
In response to e-mail questions from The Associated Press, Assistant Chief Mike Kjos said that issues related to discipline are complex and that the union’s involvement is one-piece. One hurdle, he said, is that discipline handed out in previous cases can be used as a precedent for cases that lead to a light sentence.
“It’s not impossible, but it does pose challenges for more discipline when previous administrations may have worked from a different angle of accountability,” he said.
Michael Friedman, who served as chairman of the Civilian Review Authority for three years, said the union’s history of supporting officers “without any common regard for community standards for what police work should be” is a problem “which rightly frustrates many.”
“But it’s also very helpful for others to say, especially now,” Hey, it’s a union problem, “said Friedman. “And if we change the union, or remove the union, or remove some rights, it changes everything.”
Written press writer Doug Glass contributed.
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