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COPA Chief Administrator Andrea Kersten clears up misconceptions about what agency does

COPA Chief Administrator clears up misconceptions about what agency does
COPA Chief Administrator clears up misconceptions about what agency does 02:41

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Andrea Kersten leads investigations into police misconduct as head of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

Now, one year into her term as chief administrator of COPA, she is clearing up some misconceptions about her office.

CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey sat down with Kersten, who said transparency is the agency's number one goal. Previous heads of COPA have not been as accessible, and Kersten says she wants to remove any mystery about the important work they do.

She has also encouraged residents - both those who have supported and criticized COPA's recommendations in the past - to take advantage of a special opportunity to find out more.

When 21-year-old Isidro Valverde was shot and killed by a police officer in the Irving Park neighborhood last month, it was described by police as an "exchange" of gunfire.

"The offender fired his weapon, and the officer fired his weapons," police Supt. David Brown said hours after the incident.

But the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, led Andrea Kersten, quickly offered a differing account.

"In the aftermath of Laquan McDonald, I just started to really look at the problems in our criminal justice system differently," Kersten said.

In the Irving Park case, COPA said Valverde may not have fired at all.

"Transparency, or a perceived lack thereof, is why COPA came into existence in the first place," Kersten said.

Kersten says it wasn't about pitting COPA against the Chicago Police Department. Rather, it was a real-time example of why her agency exists in the first place.

"That's, in fact, what we're asked to do, is not adopt anyone else's version of events, but to really follow the facts and the evidence - not just in high-profile officer-involved shootings, but in every case that we encounter," Kersten said, "and that's the work we do day in and day out."

Since taking the helm, Kersten has helped forge a transparency unit inside their agency – and has worked to explain what they do. For example, COPA does not don't make decisions – it makes recommendations.

"Our role is to be a neutral factfinder," Kersten said.

This is one reason why Kerstens' office is offering what could be a first-of-its-kind workshop, which they're calling the COPA People's Academy. It is a very condensed version of COPA's training course - available to the public.

"Helping the public understand why we take some cases and not others," Kersten said. "Other courses are going to focus on what do we do in an officer-involved shooting."

The workshop is being offered the hopes that a deeper understanding will lead to enhanced trust and collaboration with the public.

"We want to open this — literally open the doors — to what it is that we do and who we are," Kersten said.

For anyone interested in the COPA People's Academy, it is a six-week course starting March 21. For more details, follow this link. 

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