CHICAGO — An investigation into the officer who grabbed a Black woman along the lakefront is expected to conclude in the next month, the interim leader of Chicago’s police watchdog agency said Thursday.
The incident happened Aug. 28 as the woman, Nikkita Brown, walked in a park near North Avenue Beach. Videos from Brown’s attorney and the city’s police misconduct watchdog, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, shows the officer confronting Brown and telling her he would arrest her if she didn’t leave the closed beach.
Brown began to walk toward the park’s exit as the officer followed her and she asked him to stay away. When she stopped to use her phone, the officer grabbed her; after a struggle, during which she pleaded to be let go, he released her.
Brown was not charged with a crime or arrested. She filed a complaint with COPA, and the officer has been on administrative duty pending the investigation.
“We are on track to have that case closed within the next month,” Andrea Kersten, the interim chief administrator of the agency, said during a hearing on the agency’s $14.7 million 2022 budget request Thursday.
But the results of the investigation into the officer who grabbed Brown will not immediately be made public.
COPA will present its findings to Police Supt. David Brown for review. If COPA recommends discipline in the case, it will present that recommendation to the Chicago Police Board, which is charged with disciplining officers.
During the meeting, Kersten said COPA will be more transparent and will be able to conduct more timely investigations in the future.
The agency has been criticized for not promptly completing its investigations and for a lack of transparency on when and under what circumstances it will release evidence of wrongdoing.
Kersten said she’s heard those complaints as a veteran of the agency.
A third deputy is being hired in coming months to oversee the large caseload the agency handles each year, Kersten said.
“We don’t want to set goals that are unrealistic for people, and at no point are we willing to sacrifice the integrity of an investigation for the sake of timeliness,” she said. “But we are going to steadily decrease the amount of time it takes to close cases so that it’s done in appropriate process that does not undermine the integrity of his work.”
The agency was created after an officer, Jason Van Dyke, murdered Laquan McDonald. It replaced the Independent Police Review Authority, and Kersten said COPA only recently closed the lengthy backlog of cases it inherited from its predecessor.
COPA will also ensure there are consistent resources dedicated to cases that rise to a “level of public consciousness” like Brown’s or that of Anjanette Young. Young, a social worker, had her home mistakenly raided by officers; they left her standing naked in her living room as she told them they were in the wrong home.
The Young case has received national attention — but it happened in February 2019 and an investigation is still ongoing.
Kersten said there is not a “rubric” for how to decide when to prioritize those high-profile incidents or other cases that involve police shootings or excessive force, but she will work “internally to have better communication” across the agency to ensure each unit knows when a case needs dedicated resources.
“Making sure that our case management system reflects when a case has that level of priority, making sure there is direct communication between the folks on one side of the office and the other, and that communication includes our public affairs unit, so that we’re all working together to make sure that we are able to provide resolution on the cases that the public is looking for resolution on,” she said.
The agency is also creating a dedicated transparency unit that will work to expedite the release of videos, such as body-camera footage, to the victims, families of victims of police misconduct and the public.
Increased transparency is a “non-negotiable beginning” to winning the trust the public is demanding in the accountability agency, Kersten said.
Kersten also touted the agency’s rate of sustaining 44 percent of misconduct cases against officers, saying it was an important improvement over the “abysmal” rates of the Independent Police Review Agency.
“We use that same number when we talk to officers to let them know that this doesn’t mean that when you have a COPA case it automatically sustains, either,” she said. “It means that you can trust there’s going to be a thorough process, and that’s just something that simply didn’t exist in the prior versions of this agency or at least that was not the” public perception.
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