The head of the Minneapolis police union disputed city officials’ concerns that he may have violated city policy when he and seven other uniformed officers appeared in a promotional mailer for Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Pawlenty alongside a message calling for a crackdown on undocumented immigration.
In an interview, Lt. Bob Kroll attributed the outrage from Mayor Jacob Frey and City Council members to the union having endorsed a Republican. The union has endorsed DFL candidates in the past and Kroll said there was no such anger then.
“There was nothing said when [Gov. Mark] Dayton was our endorsed candidate in our literature, both his first and second term. Not a word,” said Kroll. “You can do a side-by-side. It’s the same thing. It’s cops in uniform.”
The mailer in question featured the eight officers, Pawlenty and his running mate, Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach, posing in front of what appear to be two Minneapolis squad cars, though the decals are not visible. It contains a statement from Pawlenty: “Our state is wasting millions on benefits for those here illegally. That’s not right.”
It touts the federation’s endorsement, but doesn’t specify whether the individual officers pictured support Pawlenty.
After the mailer appeared last week, Frey and several council members condemned it as a problematic message contradictory to the city’s separation ordinance, which prevents city employees from asking about immigration status when someone calls for city services, such as 911.
Frey reiterated Thursday that he believes the flier violates a city policy mandating political endorsements contain a disclaimer clearly stating it’s the police union — and not the entire department — supporting the candidate or cause. “The policy requires a disclaimer. Period,” said Frey.
Kroll said all eight officers were authorized to appear in the flier under a provision that allows elected union officials or designees to participate in political promotions. He said the union shared its policies, including the need for a disclaimer, with the Pawlenty campaign. Kroll would not say whether the vehicles were indeed Minneapolis-owned squads, but he balked at the suggestion from council members that using Minneapolis vehicles in a political flier could be an inappropriate use of city resources.
“They’re talking about the gas to go from there to there?” he said. “I think if you look in the City Council’s backyard they’re going to find much more abuses than that.”
The dispute speaks to a tense political divide between a progressive liberal city government and Kroll, who, as union president represents more than 800 police officers. In the interview, Kroll did not shy away from disapproval of the city’s left-leaning politics.
Kroll said he didn’t pick the quote on the mailer, but Pawlenty’s firm position on immigration played a role in why union members wanted to endorse him. Kroll said Minneapolis officers will uphold the city’s laws, but many wish they could be “unhandcuffed” on enforcement of undocumented immigration.
“If you’ve got an illegal alien, you’re not allowed to ask,” Kroll said. “And you’re not allowed to turn that person over to [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. It’s unfortunate.”
In contrast, Frey campaigned on immigrant protections.
Kroll said he’s not been informed of any kind of internal affairs investigation related to the mailer. He said any such action would only help the Pawlenty campaign around the state and make city officials “look even more foolish.”
“For an entire Democrat City Council that’s known statewide as kooks, for them to have such issue with this, it’s getting a lot more play for the Pawlenty campaign than it would have been if they would have just forgot about it,” Kroll said. “They don’t have a good reputation statewide. I mean, look at that council. So if they want to investigate me, I’m sure it will be newsworthy again, and it will just be another shot to the arm of the Tim Pawlenty campaign of normalness.”