Lightfoot’s Pick to Lead Police Oversight Office Clears Key City Panel Amid Controversy

Andrea Kersten, interim chief of Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability appears on “Chicago Tonight” via Zoom, July 21, 2021. (WTTW News)Andrea Kersten, interim chief of Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability appears on “Chicago Tonight” via Zoom, July 21, 2021. (WTTW News)

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s pick to lead the agency charged with probing misconduct by members of the Chicago Police Department advanced Wednesday amid continuing criticism around the release of a report concerning an officer killed in the line of duty.

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The City Council’s Public Safety Committee voted 9-6 to advance the nomination of Andrea Kersten, the interim head of the agency known as COPA, to the full Chicago City Council, which is scheduled to consider her appointment on Feb. 23.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability released a report in November that recommended police Officer Ella French, who was slain in August, be disciplined for conduct during the botched raid of Anjanette Young’s home in February 2019.

Kersten said again Wednesday she regretted that the release of the report work hurt French’s family and friends. Kersten has said she particularly wished French’s family had been informed of the report’s findings before it was released to the news media.

However, Kersten has said it is false to suggest that COPA recommended French be disciplined after she was shot and killed during a traffic stop in Englewood on Aug. 7. Kersten said she had no authority to alter that report after French’s death and before it was required to be released.

COPA completed its probe of the February 2019 raid of Young’s home on April 27, sending a 163-page report that detailed more than 100 instances of wrongdoing to Superintendent David Brown for his consideration, Kersten said.

Brown “agreed with all of our findings and disciplinary recommendations on July 26” but the seven officers facing reprimands and suspensions and in one case termination were not notified until Nov. 9. The report was released on Nov. 10, in keeping with COPA’s rules, Kersten said.

Kersten’s nomination — made approximately a week after COPA’s probe into the raid of Young’s home was released — has been stalled since November, and failed to advance in January.

During that hearing, Kersten said COPA had no authority to alter official reports documenting police misconduct and told members of the Public Safety Committee that allowing changes could complicate efforts to reform the Chicago Police Department, which has a decades long history of failing to hold officers who commit misconduct accountable.

Before the vote on Kersten’s nomination, Public Safety Committee Chair Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th Ward) said he would introduce a measure at the panel’s Feb. 17 meeting that would give the head of COPA the legal authority to redact the name of any officer who dies in the line of duty in a report released after their death.

Endorsing the change, Kersten said the measure would have given her the legal authority, which she currently lacks, to remove French’s name from the probe of the raid of Young’s home.

However, that proposal seemed of little interest to those City Council members who have vowed to attempt to stop Kersten from being confirmed.

The six alderpeople who voted to reject Kersten’s nomination are Raymond Lopez (15th Ward), Nicholas Sposato (38th Ward), Samantha Nugent (39th Ward), Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward), Jim Gardiner (45th Ward) and Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward).

All of those City Council members except for Lopez and Reilly represent wards that are home to many police officers and firefighters.

The nine alderpeople who voted to advance Kersten’s nomination are Harry Osterman (48th Ward), Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward), Jason Ervin (28th Ward), Ariel Reboyras (30th Ward), Emma Mitts (37th Ward), Michele Smith (43rd Ward), Tom Tunney (44th Ward), Matt Martin (47th Ward) and Taliaferro.

All of those City Council members except for Martin were tapped by Lightfoot to lead City Council committees.

Ervin, who is also the chair of the City Council Black Caucus, said the City Council should not pressure misconduct agencies to alter their findings and called the criticism of Kersten a “tragedy.”

“We need someone in that office that is going to report the facts, not hide the facts,” Ervin said.

Kersten has led COPA on an interim basis since May, when she replaced Sydney Roberts, who resigned after Lightfoot repeatedly criticized COPA for taking 16 months to investigate the raid at Young’s home. Video of the raid ignited a political firestorm that Lightfoot has yet to quench.

Lightfoot, who headed the Office of Professional Standards under former Mayor Richard M. Daley when it was charged with investigating police misconduct, said Kersten was the most qualified applicant for the job.

If Kersten is confirmed by the Chicago City Council, she will be the final COPA chief administrator to be confirmed by the City Council.

Once the newly created Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability is formed and launched, a board of Chicago residents will pick COPA’s leader.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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