Bowing to pressure from police reform advocates, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has appointed chief investigator Andrea Kersten to serve as interim chief of Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that COPA staffers and police reform advocates were mobilizing behind the scenes to stop Lightfoot from appointing the chief operating office of the Public Building Commission to replace COPA chief Sydney Roberts, who resigned earlier this month.
Lori Lypson’s only experience in investigating police wrongdoing was more than 20 years ago when she spent a year as supervising investigator for the Chicago Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards. Lightfoot was the office’s chief administrator at the time.
Lightfoot and Lypson teamed up again in May 2005 at the city’s Department of Procurement Services.
Lypson’s appointment would have gone over like a lead balloon with COPA staffers.
They favored Kersten to replace Roberts. They feared had Kersten been passed over, she would have left the agency, delaying COPA’s ongoing investigations of the police shootings of 13-year-old Adam Toledo and 22-year-old Anthony Alvarez.
Now there will be no interruption. The groundswell of internal support for Kersten and the outside pressure from police reform advocates have convinced Lightfoot to change her mind, at least for now.
“My sentiments can be best summed up by two words: wise choice,” said Craig Futterman, director of the Civil Rights and Police Accountability Project at the University of Chicago.
Futterman had called Lypson’s possible appointment a “head scratcher,” saying COPA needed someone at the helm who was an expert in investigating police misconduct and managing those investigations.
To say COPA staffers are relieved would be an understatement, according to agency spokesman Ephraim Eaddy.
“She’s known them from the beginning. People have watched her coming up through the ranks. She didn’t leave. She was one of the few who stayed to shape the agency and really stabilize things,” Eaddy said Tuesday.
“For all of the gains that we have made over the past nearly four years, we really wanted to see that continuity, especially at this critical time when there has been high-profile, officer-involved shootings. We have a number of cases of public concern.”
Kersten, 42, could not be reached for comment.
Eaddy caller her a “good leader,” citing her ability to “communicate, collaborate and sell the big picture,” instead of simply moving “from one investigation to another.”
He talked about Kersten’s ability to connect with families and other “impacted parties” and about her belief in training specialized units and assembling teams of investigators.
That’s precisely what happened after the avalanche of verbal abuse and excessive force complaints against CPD officers stemming from the protests that followed the death of George Floyd that devolved in civil unrest and rampant looting. Kersten assembled teams of investigators to handle those complaints.
“The staff is very excited to have her on as interim chief. We really believe that it spoke to us as an agency that someone was chosen internally. We believe that represented a sense of trust and progress that we’ve made over this past, over four years,” Eaddy said.
Lightfoot has been openly critical of COPA and how long it has taken for investigations to be completed under Roberts’ leadership.
The mayor was particularly outspoken about COPA’s protracted, more-than-18-month investigation into the botched raid on a wrong home that forced a crying and pleading Anjanette Young to stand naked before Chicago police officers.
As chief investigator, Kersten oversaw that investigation, which culminated in COPA’s decision to identify over 100 allegations of misconduct by nearly a dozen officers involved in the raid on Young’s home.
The alleged violations range from steps taken by the officers to acquire the warrant to the actions officers took to execute the search. Police Supt. David Brown is weighing COPA’s still-undisclosed disciplinary recommendations for the officers involved.
“We understand that timeliness can be an issue. We understand that could bring forth some criticism. But what [Kersten] continued to do is to make sure she kept that team focused and delivered the closure that Anjanette Young deserves, that the city obviously wanted to see,” Eaddy said.
“Our timeliness has improved over the past. We inherited an IPRA backlog that was considerable that had an impact. But we have worked through it. And even in the case of Anjanette Young, it was closed in a more timely fashion than in the past.”
Eaddy noted Kersten also presided over an investigation of the police shooting at a CTA Red Line station that was wrapped up in just nine months.
Roberts’ resignation under pressure gives Lightfoot an opportunity to choose her own permanent COPA chief — before a civilian police review board is seated and empowered to make the selection. But it also marks yet another turn of the revolving door at Lightfoot’s City Hall.
Contributing: Mitch Dudek