Last week, a coalition of Twin Cities artists unveiled a dreamlike comic book called “Sgt. Kroll Goes to the Office,” which features an unflattering illustration of the Minneapolis police union president, Bob Kroll, as a slobbering pig.
“Sgt. Kroll Goes to the Office” is an illustrated transcript of Kroll’s interrogation of a 14-year-old African American boy named Otis from 20 years ago. Otis, who had once robbed a post office, was back in the hot seat after police caught him behind the wheel of a stolen car.
Otis tells Kroll that he only borrowed the car for the weekend for $50, and that he didn’t know it had been stolen. In the transcript, Kroll makes it clear that he doesn’t believe the kid.
But he also proclaims some pretty terrible things – that people deserved to get their cars stolen if they lived in the city, that new cop hires in those days were all stupid or too overeducated to be street smart, that South Minneapolis was a shit neighborhood, and that the kid was going to be a statistic.
The book was delivered to the mayor and members of city council, and word eventually got around to Kroll himself. The union boss personally stopped in Beyond Repair book shop in the Midtown Global Market to pick up a few copies, then he agreed to meet with the book’s editor, Sam Gould, at City Hall.
Gould is looking forward to asking Kroll just what kind of “role” he plays in the interrogation room. Kroll told City Pages that he’s looking forward to explaining.
Kroll recalls Otis specifically because, back in the day, the defense attorney who got assigned the case complained about the interrogation. Kroll's lieutenant at the time told him to tone it down. He couldn't just say things like people who lived in the city deserved to become victims of crime.
The lieutenant was a good guy, Kroll says, but he didn't go to the same training as the cops who did the interrogations.
For his interview tactics, Kroll credits a classic police interrogation method called the Reid Technique, which was first developed in the 1960s by Chicago cop and polygraphist John E. Reid. The Supreme Court’s Miranda decision repeatedly points to the Reid manual as an authority on the interrogation practices of American police.
As an alternative to beating confessions out of people, the Reid Technique was a step-by-step instruction on psychological manipulation, from setting up the room so that it’s as uncomfortable and stress-inducing as possible, to teasing out key facts that only a true perpetrator would know.
To begin, the interrogator talks casually with the suspect to establish some baseline reactions, much like the polygraph. For example, looking to the right often implies an effort to remember the truth, while looking to the left implies an effort to make something up.
Once the interview begins, the interrogator takes a hardline accusatory attitude that the suspect must have committed the crime. The officer asks questions loaded with the assumption of guilt. He develops a storyline for why the suspect must have committed the crime.
He offers socially acceptable motives – like robbing a store to feed a child – and then offers morally depraved ones – like robbing a store to feed a drug addiction. Or he lays the blame on the victim, such as suggesting women dressed scantily must do it for male attention. He might suddenly bring in a second investigator to play bad cop.
All the while, the interrogator interrupts each denial because letting a suspect deny guilt at length increases confidence.
So in the part of the interrogation when he mused that people who left their cars unlocked deserved to get them stolen, Kroll says he was really trying to justify the crime to Otis.
When he bagged on poorly hired cops, Kroll was trying to find common ground with what he believed to be the 14-year-old’s worldview, that cops were stupid.
When he seemed to bully Otis about his intelligence level, his special education status, and whether he’d ever been held back in school, Kroll says he was trying to get the kid angry enough so he would talk instead of playing dumb. And he did talk.
“Granted, I'm interviewing a juvenile over an auto theft. One of the places [the Reid Technique] comes in best is with child rapists and stuff like that," Kroll says. "Wouldn't that interview look really horrible if I was in there with a child rapist and I said, 'You know what, I've been there before, and those 11-year-old girls really turn me on, and sometimes they really lure you in.' You could pull up any interview and it's the same concept."
"You put a hand on 'em, you even sit there crying with them. It's an act. And it's an art.”
The strongest criticism against the Reid Technique is that investigators can take it too far, lie about evidence, and mess with suspects’ heads in a way that forces them to make false confessions. For that reason, it has been banned from use on juveniles in the United Kingdom and discouraged in Canada.
Provincial Court Judge Mike Dinkel wrote in 2012 that, “Stripped to its bare essentials, the Reid Technique is a guilt-presumptive, confrontational, psychologically manipulative procedure whose purpose is to extract a confession, not necessarily a truthful confession.”
At a certain point, the difference between a just interrogation and an unjust one lies with the individual cop.
"If you don’t have it you don’t have it," Kroll says. "Investigation is all about getting the truth. ...I would never take pride in putting an innocent party away. If it’s not them it’s not them, and they’re off. It’s not about obtaining confessions from people who didn’t commit crimes."
- Minneapolis cops stage walk-out at Lynx game, Bob Kroll slams 'pathetic' attendance
- Comic book casts Minneapolis police union chief Bob Kroll as a pig
- Police union president Bob Kroll: Public scrutiny of cops leads to gun violence
- Mayor Betsy Hodges calls out Bob Kroll for 'jackass remarks' on Minnesota Lynx
- Activists claim police union chief Bob Kroll is racist