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Lightfoot’s Pick For Police Oversight Agency Clears Key Committee Hurdle In Tight Vote

Andrea Kersten's nomination to lead the Civilian Office of Police Accountability will be reviewed by the full City Council amid ongoing criticism over the agency's decision to include slain Officer Ella French in a disciplinary report.

Left: Interim COPA chief Andrea Kersten; Right: Slain Chicago Police officer Ella French
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CHICAGO — The mayor’s controversial choice to lead the city’s civilian police oversight panel will face an up-or-down vote from the City Council later this month after a key city committee narrowly forwarded her nomination Wednesday.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot nominated Andrea Kersten to lead the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which is responsible for investigating misconduct claims made against Chicago Police officers. But her pick has been mired in controversy because of the agency’s recommended discipline for slain officer Ella French in a report released after her death.

The council’s Committee on Public Safety voted 9-6 Wednesday to advance Kersten’s nomination to the full City Council for consideration at its February 23 meeting. Kersten is interim chief administrator of the agency.

Her nomination to become COPA’s permanent leader was delayed late last year. Twenty alderpeople opposed Kersten because of the agency’s report on its investigation into the wrongful raid of Anjanette Young’s home, which recommended a three-day suspension for French for failing to activate her body-worn camera after she arrived at the scene. 

The report was finalized in April — months before French was killed — but only publicly released in November, after Police Supt. David Brown reviewed the report, and COPA officials met with Young and her attorney.

Although Kersten has apologized for not communicating with French’s family ahead of the release of the report, she has maintained that she was bound by law to release the report as it was finalized, without redacting French’s name or the recommendation of discipline. An ally of Lightfoot delayed a vote last month when the outcome was uncertain.

Kersten again apologized to French’s family Wednesday, but said “I have sought to carry out my duties with integrity and adherence to the rules and laws that govern this work.”

“It’s those rules and laws that controlled the manner in which COPA released a summary report that included a fallen officer’s name,” she said.

Kersten added that she had “listened” to City Council and their constituents “and I understand that you don’t just want explanations or excuses but you want solutions. You want a path forward so that something like this never happens again.”

The city’s municipal code only allows for COPA to redact information in its reports if the information is also exempt from disclosure through the Freedom of Information Act. Kersten said she supported adding a clause to give herself or future COPA administrators discretion to redact the names of officers killed in the line of duty.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), who chairs the committee, said the panel will consider a proposal next week to remove names from COPA if “the relevant person died with honor in the line of duty and after consideration of both the dignity and respect for those persons and the public interest in the information.”

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) defended Kersten, saying the attempt to block her nomination was “a true tragedy.”

“We all are saddened by the loss of Officer French in her role in protecting the citizens of our city,” Ervin said. “But at the same time, I think we also honor Officer French by being fair and impartial in how we adjudicate matters that are done in the city as well. 

“The confidence of the community is at stake here if we decide to go back to a way where we would attempt to not honestly report what’s happening and to whitewash, or change that in a way that may be viewed as only for the officer’s benefit,” Ervin said.

Kersten’s nomination is likely to draw a close vote in the full City Council. Several police officers and members of the Fraternal Order of Police voiced their opposition to Kersten during the public comment portion of the meeting. 

Carlos Yanez – the father of Carlos Yanez Jr., who has wounded in the shooting that killed French – said it was a “slap in the face” to French’s family to include her name in the Young report. 

“I felt so much pain because if that had been my son, I would have lashed out and might have said quite a few things and I cannot say today,” he said. “Sometimes people could be highly educated and trained, but sometimes they just (lack) common sense and that’s the problem here.”

When opposition to her nomination arose in November, Kersten apologized to French’s family at a meeting of the Chicago Police Board, and again in January while reiterating could not remove French’s name from the report. 

“I have profound sadness that the work of our agency has in any way hurt the French family and those who mourn her and I have and will continue to work steadfastly to ensure that a situation such as this never happens again,” Kersten said in January. “There is more that COPA could have done to message publicly the timeline, and the circumstances surrounding Officer French’s inclusion in our report.

“COPA did not, nor ever would, make a posthumous disciplinary recommendation against any officer, including officer Ella French,” Kersten said.

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