Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday handed the interim chief of Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability the permanent job, defying 20 City Council members who wanted Andrea Kersten disqualified for the job.
Lightfoot anointed Kersten as the permanent chief administrator in a news release that praised Kersten but made no mention of a controversy over COPA’s decision to release a report recommending a three-day suspension for slain Chicago Police Officer Ella French for her role in a botched raid of a woman’s home that took place before French was murdered during a police stop this summer.
“Andrea Kersten is a longtime and dedicated public servant who brings a lifetime of relevant experience and subject matter expertise to the role of chief administrator,” the mayor said in the news release, which came four days after she branded the COPA report the “height of tone-deafness.”
Since replacing ousted Chief Administrator Sydney Roberts, Kersten has done “incredible work” leading COPA and “completing the backlog” of open investigations “inherited from the Independent Police Review Authority, the agency that preceded COPA,” the mayor said.
“At a time when independent and civilian-led police accountability has never been more important, I have the utmost confidence in Andrea’s ability to lead COPA with transparency, integrity and dedication to the office’s important role,” the mayor said.
The 20 alderpersons who signed a letter to Lightfoot on Tuesday couldn’t disagree more in the wake of COPA’s report on the raid.
“Morale is low, tensions are running high and COPA releases a report tainting the legacy of fallen Officer French and recommending disciplinary action against her? To quote you, Madam Mayor, this demonstrates ‘the height of tone-deafness,’” the alderpersons wrote in a letter to Lightfoot dated Tuesday.
“In these days of civil unrest and rising crime, we need someone at the helm of COPA who possesses the emotional and practical intelligence to navigate the many volatile situations they will face in this role. … All this report does is further alienate our Chicago police officers at a time when it is imperative that we begin rebuilding their trust in this administration and in the people who are supposed to have their backs.”
The letter was noteworthy not only for its strong language but because it was signed by alderpersons who have not hesitated to criticize Chicago police officers in the past: : David Moore (17th), Jeanette Taylor (20th) and Andre Vasquez (40th).
They were joined by some of the police union’s staunchest City Council allies: Brian Hopkins (2nd), Patrick Daley Thompson (11th), Marty Quinn (13th), Edward Burke (14th), Matt O’Shea (19th), Silvana Tabares (23rd), Ariel Reboyras (30th), Felix Cardona Jr. (31st), Gilbert Villegas (36th), Nick Sposato (38th), Samantha Nugent (39th), Anthony Napolitano (41st), Brendan Reilly (42nd) and James Gardiner (45th).
Also signing the letter were some of Lightfoot’ most powerful City Council allies such as Workforce Development Committee Chair Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10th), Health Committee Chair George Cardenas (12th), the mayor’s assistant floor leader and License Committee Chair Emma Mitts (37th).
The Chicago Police Department is 1,000 officers short of authorized strength even after Lightfoot balanced her 2021 budget by eliminating 614 police vacancies.
After a tidal wave of police retirements, the letter noted that the city is having “significant trouble maintaining adequate numbers.” The shortage of officers on the street has crime rising and Chicagoans feeling unsafe “on our streets and in their own homes,” they said.
“We are vehemently opposed to interim Chief Administrator Kersten being named chief administrator of COPA. ... To name her … would be not only detrimental to our city and its people, but an insult to the memory of Officer French and her brothers and sisters in blue,” the letter states.
In a report released last week, COPA accused French of failing to activate a body-worn camera when she showed up at the botched raid on the home of social worker Anjanette Young and failing to fill out the required form.
COPA spokesman Ephraim Eaddy said the oversight agency’s summary report into the police raid on Young’s home was completed on April 27.
That’s more than three months before French, 29, was fatally shot and her partner, Carlos Yanez Jr., was critically wounded after they pulled over an SUV with expired plates at 63rd Street and Bell Avenue.
Eaddy has argued that COPA is compelled by city ordinance to “make reports open to public inspection” and can “only redact information to the extent it is exempted from disclosure” by the Freedom of Information Act.
But the argument didn’t fly with Lightfoot, who called it the “height of tone-deafness.”
On Aug. 11, Young released a statement saying French was the only officer who showed her “dignity and respect.”
French “assisted Ms. Young and allowed her to get dressed, in the privacy of her bedroom,” the statement said.
COPA’s report backs that up. It praised French as one of only a handful of officers who “took affirmative steps to protect Ms. Young’s dignity.”
Tabares was outraged but not surprised by Lightfoot’s decision to thumb her nose at the 20 alderpersons.
“Over and over again. No input from aldermen. Again, she’s not including our input. The constituents that we represent have no say,” Tabares said Tuesday.
Sposato said he had a previous run-in with Kersten after she reported him to the Board of Ethics for calling her five times, calls she ignored.
He vowed to do “everything in my power to cash in every chip I can with friends” to block Kersten’s appointment, adding, “I don’t think she’ll pass through committee. And, if she does pass through committee, I don’t think she’ll pass through [the full] Council.”
Kersten’s appointment is an apparent about-face for Lightfoot.
In late May, Lightfoot bowed to pressure from police reform advocates and appointed Kersten, then COPA’s chief investigator, as interim administrator, replacing Sydney Roberts, who was forced out. The mayor had been poised to anoint Lori Lypson, chief operating officer at the Public Building Commission, to replace Roberts.
During budget hearings, Kersten made it clear that she wanted to stay and she impressed City Council members with her knowledge of the job.