Chicago City Council Confirms Mayor’s Pick to Lead COPA After Months of Controversy

Video: Mayor Lightfoot’s choice to lead the city’s police watchdog agency gets City Council’s stamp of approval — but not without a fight. We speak with Andrea Kersten on “Chicago Tonight” (Produced by Evan Garcia)

The Chicago City Council voted 31-14 to confirm Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s pick to lead the agency charged with probing misconduct by members of the Chicago Police Department after months of controversy that began when the agency released a report that recommended that Officer Ella French, slain in August, be disciplined for conduct during the botched raid of Anjanette Young’s home in February 2019.

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Andrea Kersten, who served as the interim head of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, also known as COPA, for nine months, said she regretted that the agency’s work hurt French’s family and friends. Kersten said she particularly wished French’s family had been informed of the report’s findings before it was released to the news media.

While Kersten was criticized by several members of the City Council for releasing that report, other members said Kersten’s action compiled with the city’s rules and regulations.

“All she did was her job,” said Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward), the chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus.

However, Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd Ward), who has emerged as one of the most conservative members of the City Council in recent months, said Kersten was unfit to judge whether police officers violated department rules or the law when making “split-second, life-and-death decisions.”

Ald. Maria Hadden (49th Ward) said she welcomed her colleagues concern for the families of those hurt or killed by police officers.

“I wish your concern extended to the lives of Black people,” Hadden said.

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, officials said.

Brown accepted those 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, officials said. COPA officials released the report Nov. 10, in keeping with its rules, officials said.

Kersten has repeatedly said she had no authority to alter that report after French’s death and before it was required to be released.

Under intense questioning from the most conservative members of the City Council, Kersten warned members of the Chicago City Council’s Public Safety Committee that altering official reports documenting police misconduct could complicate efforts to reform the Chicago Police Department, which has a decades long history of failing to hold officers who commit misconduct accountable.

Public Safety Committee Chair Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th Ward) introduced a measure on Feb. 17 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 failed to advance after several members of the Chicago City Council said they were concerned it would violate the Freedom of Information Act and set a bad precedent at a time when the Chicago Police Department is working to restore trust among Chicagoans.

Kersten will be the final COPA 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.

Note: This story was originally published Feb. 23. It has been updated to include our “Chicago Tonight” conversation. Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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