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Embattled Lightfoot Pick To Lead Police Oversight Agency Approved By City Council

Andrea Kersten's nomination was stalled for months after 20 alderpeople condemned a report from her agency that recommended discipline for a slain Chicago Police Officer.

Left: Interim COPA chief Andrea Kersten; Right: Slain Chicago Police officer Ella French
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CITY HALL — Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s nominee to lead the Civilian Office of Police Accountability was approved Wednesday despite continued opposition from some alderpeople.

City Council voted 31-14 to make Andrea Kersten the chief administrator of COPA, which is responsible for investigating misconduct claims made against Chicago Police officers. Kersten has led the agency in an interim role since last year.

Her nomination had been mired in controversy because of the agency’s recommended discipline for slain officer Ella French in a report released after her death. 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 repeatedly apologized for not communicating with French’s family ahead of the release of the report, Kersten has maintained she was bound by law to release the report as it was finalized, without redacting French’s name or the recommendation of discipline. 

“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 previously.

On Wednesday, alderpeople had a tense debate on Kersten’s nomination as she and her family watched from the side of the council floor.

Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd) said that COPA, under Kersten’s interim leadership, is more “concerned with dishing out punishment instead of truth and fairness.”

But Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) argued Kersten had proven she would do her job within the rules that govern the agency “no matter the unpopularity of it.”

“Ms. Kersten has followed the rules. She has done her job and that’s the kind of person that we need in charge of an accountability office,” she said.

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.

Amid the confirmation battle, Kersten signed onto a proposed ordinance that would give COPA the ability to redact the names of fallen officers from its publicly released summary reports. But the measure was held in committee as some aldermen feared it would reduce Chicagoans’ trust in police reform efforts.

When opposition to her nomination arose in November, Kersten apologized to French’s family at a meeting of the Chicago Police Board, and again at two committee meetings to consider her nomination.

“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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