Minneapolis police union boss Bob Kroll tells podcast how to defeat civilian review

Lt. Bob Kroll called the video showing the police killing of George Floyd "horrific" but denied racism played a role in his death. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Minneapolis Police Federation President Lt. Bob Kroll criticized civilian oversight of police and offered advice on defeating civilian review proposals on a March police podcast. 

When “The Skirmish Line” podcast host and Tulsa Police union leader Jerad Lindsey said sarcastically that civilian oversight must have had positive effects on Minneapolis crime rates, lawsuits against officers and officer morale, Kroll cited his own colorful record:

“I’ve had 54 complaints filed against me over my 31 years, and I’m still here. I’m still Lieutenant. I’ve been disciplined, but none of it has ever been upheld. I’ve been sued 11 times,” Kroll said.

The podcast — released just two months before the police killing of George Floyd — illustrates Kroll’s shrewd political instincts, which critics say he’s used over the years to slow and obstruct reform.

Kroll encouraged officers to build relationships with local politicians on both sides of the aisle. Getting involved in politics is “an effective way to shut these things down before they start,” he said, referring to aggressive civilian police oversight.

Kroll did not respond to a request for comment.

The episode also featured Tulsa Police Department Major Travis Yates, who is under investigation by the department for comments on a June radio show about race and police shootings. Yates has said systemic racism in criminal justice doesn’t exist, and said on the radio show that “research says (police) are shooting African Americans about 24% less than we probably ought to be based on the crimes being committed.” 

Kroll and Yates have worked together before. Last year the Minneapolis Police Federation formed a partnership with the organization Law Officer — where Yates is the training director — to provide free “warrior-style” training for union members after Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey banned it. In Yates’ introduction on the podcast, he called Kroll his “hero” and said that he “may even have a little bit of a man crush on him.”

To open the podcast, Kroll discussed his decades of experience with civilian oversight in Minneapolis. Minneapolis first established a civilian police review panel in his early years on the force, he said.

The Minneapolis Civilian Police Review Authority — different from today’s Office of Police Conduct Review — was created in 1990 in response to protests after two Black residents were killed during a police raid and police arrested several Black college students at a peaceful party.

Officers thought the new board was “the death of police work” and planned to stop working for a shift in response, Kroll said, although he and his partner resumed their duties before the end of that shift.  

Civilian oversight tends to “come and go,” Kroll said during the podcast. Advocates and civilian review panelists “burn out and wear out when they don’t get the result that they want, and that is bring the next guilty cop in here no matter what the circumstances are,” he said. 

Under the current Minneapolis Office of Police Conduct Review, established in 2012, office staff evaluate complaints against officers and order investigations into allegations of serious misconduct. A group of four civilian and sworn members from the Police Conduct Review Panel review these investigations, then send a recommendation to the police chief, who has final authority over discipline. 

Fewer than 3% of the 1,627 complaints filed against officers between 2013 and 2018 resulted in discipline, according to data from Office of Police Conduct Review.

Current research on the effectiveness of civilian police review boards is limited, but studies suggest residents view them positively.

Kroll said it’s key that the chief has authority over discipline, since civilians don’t have law enforcement training. And the officer under review and a union representative can be present during disciplinary hearings to defend the officer, he said. Sometimes officers make mistakes, but the union often challenges what they see as excessive discipline, he said.

“We can still kind of guide a fair investigation, and at the end of the day, it’s binding arbitration — if we need to bring our case before an arbitrator, we’re well-versed in doing that and overturning discipline in a lot of cases for biased or ineffective investigations,” Kroll said.

During the conversation about politics, Lindsey displayed the bare knuckle political style that Kroll is also known for. He said it’s important that officers build relationships with politicians and citizens “before the fight starts” so that “when you need to turn your organization into a war wagon, and weaponize it and go to war, you can.”

Kroll also commented on police body cameras, calling them a “godsend” since they “clear (officers) 95-plus percent of the time.”

He criticized what he described as the city’s predilection for settling lawsuits against officers. The city has written some “big (checks) recently for purposes that never should have been written, justifiable shootings and things like that involving officers,” he said.

It’s unclear what settlements Kroll was referring to.

Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens is a data reporter with the Reformer. Rilyn is a Minnesota native and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.