In an interview Monday with CNN, union officials said they are being unfairly vilified by critics of the Minneapolis police department, and blasted local elected officials who have called for major reform of the department, even as union representatives offered little by way of specific policing reforms they would be willing to support.
“We have become scapegoats in this,” said Bob Kroll, police union president, adding, “the people to blame lays squarely (sic) on the shoulders of our political leadership.”
Chauvin was charged by prosecutors with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The three other officers were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder, and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
Asked by CNN about what went through his mind as he watched the video of Floyd being killed, police union representative Rich Walker said he was “horrified.”
“I don’t know what was going through Officer Chauvin’s mind, but I can say that I don’t agree with how it ended,” said Walker. “And to this day I still believe that Mr. Floyd should still be here.”
Those comments were echoed by Kroll; however, he stopped short of indicating what he thinks should happen to Chauvin — instead insisting that he did not want to pass judgment on the former officer.
“There was a firefighter at the scene saying, you know, ‘check him, check him’. The light should have went (sic) off to do that, but we’re not going to pass judgment,” Kroll said. “The justice system is going to prevail.”
Blasting city leadership
In attempting to defend Minneapolis police officers from what they view as unfair criticism, union officials took aim at the city’s mayor and members of the city council who have recently called for the restructuring of the police department.
Union representatives also criticized Minneapolis police department leadership over their decision to allow rioters to set fire to the city’s 3rd police precinct building without a show of force by officers to protect the building.
Sgt. Anna Hedberg, a director at the union, said there were officers scrambling to get their belongings out of the 3rd precinct before it fell. “That’s just … that was one of the hardest things to ever watch in my career,” Hedberg said.
“To watch 54 cops that shouldn’t have been there get chased down the street because the failed politicians allowed them to be there, knowing full well that they weren’t going to send the resources,” she said.
While police union leaders had no shortage of complaints against politicians who have been vocal in calling for policing reforms in the wake of Floyd’s death, union leaders were unwilling to outline any specific proposals they would currently be willing to support.
Asked repeatedly by CNN what pieces of legislation they would support, Minneapolis police union officials said they had not yet had time to read the multiple bills put before the state’s legislative bodies, and warned that hastily rushing through policing reform measures could have unintended consequences.
“We need time,” said Kroll, adding, “everybody’s got to take a breath.”
A controversial president
Even before the police encounter that resulted in the death of George Floyd, union president Bob Kroll found himself in the national spotlight for both controversial public statements and for actively engaging in partisan campaigning for President Donald Trump.
Asked by CNN whether he stood by those comments, Kroll doubled down, saying he equates parts of the Black Lives Matter movement with domestic terrorism.
Kroll also defended his attendance on stage at a 2019 Trump campaign rally in Minnesota, saying he and his colleagues were unhappy with a statement at the time by the city’s mayor indicating Trump was not welcome in the city.
In 2007, Kroll was named in a racial discrimination lawsuit from five Minneapolis African American officers, in which they allege Kroll referred to then-US Rep. Keith Ellison as a “terrorist.” Ellison, who is now Minnesota’s attorney general, is a Black Muslim — and has promised to “hold everyone accountable” in the Floyd case.
The same lawsuit also accused Kroll of wearing a motorcycle jacket with “white power” written on it. Kroll denied the allegations and the lawsuit was settled for $740,000.
In 2004, Kroll was named in another lawsuit for excessive use of force against a man who allegedly brushed against his car. Kroll and another officer, who were both off-duty, allegedly shoved and kicked the man to the ground. Kroll denied any wrongdoing.
While union officials continue to defend their department’s credibility following Floyd’s death and the criminal charging of four of the city’s police officers, scrutiny of the embattled department is likely to continue on multiple fronts.
Still, union officials say none of the recent events, nor the litany of investigations of the department should result in broad-brushing the city’s police officers.
“We need people to quit categorizing police and the police profession as these violent racists and quit demonizing police for what they do,” said Sherral Schmidt, union vice-president, to who again put the onus on politicians, adding the city’s elected officials should “spend more time looking at ways to get the community and the police engaged together so that we can move forward to developing safer communities for the people of Minneapolis.”