In Minneapolis, talk of changing PD means taking on union
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - The fiery Minneapolis Police Union leader has earned a reputation for resisting the city long before offering full union support to officials accused of George Floyd's death.
When the mayor banned "warrior training" for officers last year, Lt. Bob Kroll, the union would offer training instead. When the city banned officials from wearing uniforms at political events, he had t-shirts made to support President Donald Trump. He praised off-duty officials who had moved away from a security detail after players on the state-run women's basketball team Minnesota Lynx wore Matter T-shirts. And after Floyd's death, he did not hold back when he called city riots a "terrorist movement."
As Minneapolis tries to overhaul his police department after Floyd's death, city guides will clash with a militant and powerful union that has long resisted such changes. But this union and Kroll are under greater pressure than ever. Some members dare to push for change, and the police leaders swear to tighten a contract that is tougher against bad police officers.
Other unions have publicly called for Kroll to be removed, while polls show that more and more Americans are changing their views on police violence and believing that offenders are being treated leniently.
"People realize that this cannot be just half-hearted measures and tinkering with political reforms. We are currently talking about attacking a widespread cultural change in police departments in Minneapolis and across the country," said Mayor Jacob Frey.
Floyd, a handcuffed black man, died on May 25 after Derek Chauvin, a white officer, used his knee to nail Floyd to the floor. Chauvin has been charged with second degree murder, third degree murder, and manslaughter. Three other officials were accused of supporting and promoting both second-degree murder and homicide.
All four officers were released, but Kroll made a statement saying that they had full union support and warned against rushing to the court.
The Minnesota AFL-CIO and some of the state's largest unions have called for Kroll to leave the country. Kroll, of whom the Star Tribune reported that he plans to resign after his term in 2021, has not responded to interview requests.
Floyd's death sparked outrage in Minneapolis and beyond as protests broke out worldwide with strong demands for police reform. In Minneapolis, the first steps are aimed at the union, which has long been seen as a barrier. Chief Medaria Arradondo said he would withdraw from the union contract negotiations to consider structural changes, and Frey urged lawmakers to establish arbitration that he believed would reverse approximately half of the state's police layoffs.
In a 60-minute interview on Sunday, Arradondo said Kroll was "absolutely ... an influencer".
"He and others have to come to terms with the fact that they will either be on the right side of the story or on the wrong side of the story ... or they will be left behind," said the boss.
One of the union's victories occurred in 2007 when it persuaded the city to limit the power of the Minneapolis Civilian Review Authority by shielding the public from the finding that an official complaint had been upheld.
The power of the union has consistently hindered change, community leaders say.
"It makes reforms very difficult when ... the association in the background says," Don't worry about it, we're going to file a complaint, "said Steve Fletcher, one of nine city council members who committed to the revision Police Department: "This is a strong signal that the leadership can simply be ignored. Over time, that has created a culture that is very resilient to change. "
When the city council refused to take additional officials onto the streets last year, Fletcher described the police recoil as a "thug". He said business owners called him to complain that officials are slowing response times or are not solving problems, and asked companies to call their council members.
Police unions across the country are considered to be equally powerful protection for officials who have been charged with crimes, including special privileges that allow them to wait 24 hours for interrogation. They have also fought against allegations of public misconduct, and lawmakers have traditionally been reluctant to fight them because of fears of being viewed as anti-police.
There is evidence that police union power is waning. In New York, legislators passed party lines to pass a reform law for the largest department in the country and others, which makes major changes to the security defied by the union.
In Minneapolis, 14 officials signed an open letter condemning Chauvin and saying that they were "ready to listen and accept demands for change, reform, and reconstruction". The move was seen as a big deal for a police agency where such public disagreements are rare.
A recent survey conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs found that, compared to five years ago, more Americans believe that police brutality is a very serious problem that is unevenly targeting black Americans. The survey also found that Americans today say that police officers who cause injuries or deaths in the course of their work are treated with leniency by the judicial system much more often than five years ago.
Allen Berryman, a retired police sergeant and union president, said the union was doing its job.
"People like the idea of a proper procedure for themselves when arrested ... or something like that, but they don't seem to like it," he said, adding that a lack of advanced discipline by management is part of it is the problem.
In response to questions from The Associated Press via email, deputy chief Mike Kjos said that discipline issues are complex and union participation is only a part. One hurdle, he said, is that discipline exercised in previous cases can be used as a precedent for current cases that result in light punishment.
"It is not impossible, but it is challenging for a higher level of discipline if previous administrations may have looked at accountability from a different perspective," he said.
Michael Friedman, who chaired the Civilian Review Authority for three years, said the union's history of assisting officials "without respecting community policing standards" is a problem "that rightly frustrates many."
"But it's also very convenient for others to say," Hey, it's a union problem right now, "said Friedman." And say if we change the union or get rid of the union or remove one or two rights, that changes everything."
Associate press writer Doug Glass contributed to this.
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