That Bob Kroll. He doesn’t disappoint. He is what we in this business call good copy. I wish he was on this side of the river. I would have more opportunities to bang out pieces.
It did not take long for the controversial head honcho of the Minneapolis Police Federation to publicly thumb his nose once again at elected authority after the city’s mayor, Jacob Frey, ordered a ban on cops undergoing so-called “warrior style” training, whether on duty or off. Those who violate the ban could be subject to discipline, Frey added.
“Chief Medaria Arradondo’s police department rests on trust, accountability and professional service,” Frey said during his state of the city address last week.
“Whereas fear-based, warrior-style trainings like killology are in direct conflict with everything that our chief and I stand for in our police department. Fear-based trainings violate the values at the very heart of community policing. When you’re conditioned to believe that every person encountered poses a threat to your existence, you simply cannot be expected to build out meaningful relationships with those same people.”
The response from Kroll? Classic. In one word: Fongool. It’s more or less Italian for, well, look up the English translation.
Kroll this week announced that the union entered into a partnership with Law Officer, a private training group, to offer such training to Minneapolis cops for free while Frey is mayor.
“It’s not about killing; it’s about survival,” Kroll told the Star Tribune.
Of course, frayed police-community trust tensions for years and recent high-profile officer-involved fatal shootings — most notably one that involved a city cop currently on trial for fatally shooting in 2017 an unarmed pajama-clad woman seeking assistance in a middle-class neighborhood — most certainly helped Frey make this decision.
The debate over such training also made national and international news after St. Anthony police officer Jeromino Yanez fatally shot St. Paul resident Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights a year earlier. It was revealed that Yanez took part in a two-day “Bulletproof Warrior” training session months before the fatal shooting. He was acquitted of criminal charges after a trial, but like Noor was terminated from the police force.
Kroll said he was told by union attorneys that Frey’s actions are illegal. Frey countered that he has the legal authority to implement and enforce such a ban. We’ll see who is right if and when a cop is found to violate the mayoral edict and challenges it.
In the meantime, there is no question that many municipalities, including St. Paul, have soured on such outside training in the midst of questionable shootings and costly out-of-court civil settlements. They are implementing more support for a “guardian” style of policing in the modern age.
Semantics aside, what is that?
“It’s service-oriented policing,” Seth Stoughton, a former Florida cop and assistant law professor at the University of South Carolina, explained in a TED Talk last fall. “One that emphasizes protecting all community members, from indignity and harm, including the indignity and harm that can come from policing itself.
“Guardian officers have empathy,” added Stoughton in the talk. “(They) honor the sanctity of life and exercise patience for everyone they are interacting with.”
Although he acknowledges the need for street cops to be trained to justly respond to high-risk situations, Stoughton believes the warrior mindset repeatedly drummed into training participants has led to a warrior mentality.
“Officers learn to treat every individual they interact with as an armed threat and every situation as a deadly force encounter in the making,” he wrote in a recent Harvard Law Review commentary. I reached out to two veteran and retired cops I know from both sides of the river to gauge their views on the dustup.
They both believe the terms “warrior” and “guardian” are too simplistic if not misnomers that gloss over the complexities of policing. Both underwent such training, either on their own or on the department’s dime, while they were on the force.
“It opened my eyes to the real potential dangers out there and DID NOT (emphasis added) make me think everyone is a suspect,” offered the Minneapolis police veteran, who added that the training he underwent was not called warrior but “Street Survival.”
“The mayor is full of (expletive deleted),” the former cop, a person of color, added. “Would your editor forbid you to go to an advanced writing class that you pay for and it’s on your own time?”
“There is some value to it,” offered the former St. Paul cop, who also took the “killology” training headed by former Army Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. He said the department picked up the tab for what was then called “officer survival” training.
“It helps to train you to react in a high-risk situation,” added the cop, who is also an avowed proponent of community-oriented policing. “But there’s a baseline. You need to go out and talk to folks, make connections and relationships, even in a so-called bad area. Even the guys I arrested several times, there was a respectful way to deal with those situations … ”
The Frey ban is nothing new in the Saintly City. Nearly three years ago, then-incoming police Chief Todd Axtell issued a policy that prohibited cops from taking part in such “warrior” training on duty, and frowned upon it off duty.
“My expectations have been made clear,” explained Axtell, who noted that less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the roughly 280,000 annual calls for police service in St. Paul result in a use-of-force incident. “If you believe based on the statistics that you favor the warrior mentality, then you are in the wrong job.”
Now here’s the rub. The phrase “Officer Friendly” was a derogatory term attached decades ago by fellow officers to cops perceived to be soft or likely to get shot themselves or their partner shot and killed. I don’t know if that term still resonates, but I am certain the attitude that gave rise to it still exists.
And there is no question that this so-called warrior training could also be subtitled: “Better to be judged by 12 than carried by six” — another long popular street cop phrase.
Kroll may be a public servant, but his bread is mainly buttered by the majority of the roughly 900-member rank and file that keeps voting him back into the police union head position in Minneapolis. And, to be fair, he has a good reputation for aggressively going to bat for the membership when it comes to collective-bargaining negotiations. But to some segments of the public, he is an embarrassment to the police force in the Twin Cities area and the embodiment of everything that is wrong with modern-day policing.
Regardless, there is indeed a significant cultural change toward what constitutes effective policing. It should not mean that street cops can’t both take an oath to protect and serve while also ensuring officer safety.
“Hey, officers want to return home safely to their families each day,” the former St. Paul cop told me. “But they also should realize that all people want to also return home safely.”
So, in the spirit of compromise, I’m suggesting here a new training protocol, if not a moniker for the times: the “vigilant police guardian.” Training starts when I get the copyright for the phrase, secure funding and hire the right instructors. Capiche? That’s another Italian word, but much nicer.