People seeking asylum are being moved from the 19th District police station in Wrigleyville following allegations that one of the new arrivals may have been the victim of sexual misconduct by an officer.
At a press conference Tuesday morning, Andrea Kersten, chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), said the agency is investigating a claim of at least one officer in the 19th District “engaging in sexual misconduct” but would not provide any details about the nature of the misconduct. COPA has not identified any victims yet, Kersten added.
The allegations are among “a couple dozen” complaints COPA has received about police interactions with the new arrivals since last summer, Kersten said. They also come on the heels of sexual misconduct allegations at the 10th District police station, in which Kersten also said no victims have come forward.
Currently, approximately 950 migrants are staying at police stations while they await spots in one of the City’s shelters.
On Tuesday evening, the 19th Police District Council (PDC) read aloud a prepared statement about the allegations at its monthly public meeting. The statement said the district councilors helped relocate people who were staying at the 19th District station, but some have returned.
According to the statement, the 19th PDC first learned about the allegations and confirmed that COPA was investigating them last week. The district councilors worked with City officials to relocate four asylum seekers who were still staying at the 19th District and shared information with them about reporting misconduct. They also informed the six alderpersons whose wards overlap with the 19th District and the Mayor’s office about the situation.
Since then, however, some new arrivals have begun “self-transferring” to the 19th District. Eighteen have relocated to that district, according to the statement. This is in part because mutual-aid volunteers have been providing meals, amenities, and services to new arrivals at the 19th District station, and the “care for asylum seekers throughout Chicago is inconsistent and inequitable,” the statement read. “People return to the 19th District because of the care they receive.”
The district councilors have alerted the Mayor’s office about people returning to the 19th District station. The administration “is attempting to move these individuals to other locations as soon as possible,” the statement read.
While the district councilors’ statement praised the generosity and care volunteers have been providing at the 19th District, it characterized the situation as a “catch-22” that “[makes] the system less stable.” The responsibility for caring for new arrivals and providing solutions is the government’s, not volunteers’, the district councilors wrote.
“We therefore call on the Mayor and other leaders at all levels of government to remove all asylum seekers from CPD stations and provide them with an equitable, city-wide pathway to affordable, sustainable housing, as well as access to other basic needs like jobs, physical and mental health care, and education.”
The Mayor’s office did not immediately respond to questions about the 19th District.
At a Monday press conference announcing the opening of a pilot center to welcome newly arrived families at a Northwest Side high school, Mayor Johnson said “there is urgency” around getting new arrivals out of police stations citywide. Johnson added that the administration is in the process of setting up alternate facilities for them.
Update July 20, 2023: Volunteers suspended mutual-aid efforts at the 19th District to discourage new arrivals from relocating to that station. 19th Police District Council member Jenny Schaffer, who has been helping coordinate mutual aid, said the decision was made to ensure the protection of everyone.
She reiterated the need for the City to provide alternatives to housing new arrivals at police stations. “If we really want to ensure [asylum seekers’] safety, we can’t keep falling into this catch-22,” Schaffer said.