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Harvey, Ill.: A city abused and ignored
County, state and federal officials have mostly turned a blind eye

Thursday, February 13, 2014
Chicago Tribune

"There are a lot of really good families that live out there. The notion that because of where they live, they get less police protection, substandard police protection, no police protection — that's appalling. Nobody in our county, frankly no one in our state, should accept that as being OK." —Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart on the crime-battered citizens of suburban Harvey, population 25,000.

The sheriff of Cook County is spot on: Where any of us lives shouldn't determine how well our streets are policed.

Tom Dart could have gone even further in placing harsh blame on local, county, state and federal officials whose derelictions of duty victimize the residents of an often lawless suburb 20 miles south of downtown Chicago. Dart said on Wednesday that he'll ask the Cook County Board for more powers to investigate failing suburbs such as Harvey.

The beleaguered citizens of Harvey — nearly 95 percent of them African-American or Latino, many of them quite poor — have been serially abused by their own city officials. Just as bad, they've been abandoned by plenty of others on public payrolls who could help tame Harvey's violence and protect its populace: federal civil rights officers who looked around but skedaddled; Cook County bureaucrats with other dilapidated, high-crime suburbs to worry about; and prominent Illinois politicians who, each Election Day, know they can count on Harvey voters to support the Democratic slate.

Most other days, those pols typically ignore this suffering city, far removed from its founding in 1891 to be a model of Christian values, one of several such "Temperance Towns" established coast to coast. But that was then. Today it's just disheveled Harvey — part pariah, part punch line, and probably too corrupt for higher layers of government to fix.

So why should anyone bother, right? That convenient neglect long has kept Cook County state's attorneys, Illinois attorneys general and U.S. Department of Justice officials from cracking down on Harvey. As the Tribune's Joe Mahr, Joseph Ryan and Matthew Walberg reported in the first of three lengthy articles on Harvey this week: Critics say the result of that neglect in Chicago, Springfield and Washington is a city where residents are victimized three times — by criminals, by dysfunctional policing and finally by outsiders turning a blind eye.

We read the series with revulsion at the evident corruption in Harvey, but without the apparent resignation that all those outsiders must feel. Surely they have excuses — We're terribly busy, we focus on consumer protection, we're more interested in police brutality.

Galling but typical of the county, state and federal neglect: Even though Harvey's City Council members bucked their mayor as early as 2006 and asked the Illinois State Police to audit their police department and advise the suburb on how to better protect the streets — a request reinforced by then-U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who had spoken of the city's "dire public safety debacle" — nothing much happened.

A spokeswoman told the Tribune the state police aren't geared to evaluate the competence of local departments. What? That ... is ... not ... believable.

We know plenty of state police officers who would be humiliated to hear the agency disavow their training, smarts and skills.

If only the county, state and federal officials who have abandoned Harvey to its criminals and whatever police officers — some good, some bad, some indifferent — show up for work each day would admit three bureaucratic truths: We tolerate Harvey as is because getting involved would be a boatload of trouble.

There's nothing in it for us. And, hard-hearted as it sounds, nobody much cares. All of which leaves innocent people stuck where the Tribune series described them: Grieving parents such as Thomas and Marsha Lee, outworking the cops to identify whoever fatally shot their son Tommy in 2008.

Rape victims whose cases languished, uninvestigated, for years. Harvey taxpayers who since 2006 have watched the payments for verdicts, settlements and legal fees involving improper policing approach $7 million. And taxpayers elsewhere whose dollars pay for medical care and other services that Harvey's chronic violence consumes.

There are mysteries, too, most notably the one involving an undercover FBI agent who was placed in a local strip club to investigate corruption. He formed a political committee and primed it with some $140,000.

From Tuesday's Tribune: The committee then flooded the crucial 2007 mayoral race with money that helped incumbent Mayor Eric Kellogg to victory, even as federal agents were probing the mayor's police department.

The feds wouldn't tell the newspaper much about the case, other than to say they followed all protocols and didn't use government money to fund the committee.

The article said the FBI "has so far refused to release records in the case that could illuminate who approved the campaign efforts and why." Maybe we'll someday hear a great explanation.

For now, though, we'll file this case with so many other reports of outside agencies launching investigations in Harvey, or seizing records in Harvey, or collecting evidence in Harvey — even as, year after year, the ongoing misery for the people of Harvey persists.

Because no one ever has taken ownership of Harvey's lawlessness and stuck around long enough to end it, the city has had a violent crime rate far higher than those of Chicago or any other suburb. Conversely, as the accompanying graphic attests, arrest rates in Harvey are far lower than those of other locales.

But it's just Harvey. Why should anyone bother, right?



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