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Cook County sheriff asks Justice Department to investigate Harvey police

Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Chicago Tribune
by Matthew Walberg

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has asked the Department of Justice to open a civil rights investigation into the Harvey Police Department for what he said is Harvey's ongoing failure to address long-standing problems.

But the suburb's acting police chief, Denard Eaves, countered with his own letter, inviting the Department of Justice to "conduct a review of the City of Harvey Police Department" to see the positive changes that have been made.

In a November letter to the Special Litigation Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, Dart cited a litany of issues about which he said Harvey has done little or nothing for years, including failures to submit sexual assault kits for analysis, track use-of-force complaints against officers and properly investigate violent crimes, including sexual assaults.

"I write to draw your immediate attention to repeated and disturbing problems within the Harvey Police Department in hopes that the U.S. Department of Justice will deploy it's unique authority to ensure lasting reform and protect the constitutional rights of thousands of residents," Dart wrote in his Nov. 23 letter.

"Sadly, your agency would be hard pressed to find a more fitting case for intervention," Dart wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Tribune. "The Harvey Police Department has repeatedly refused assistance, despite being plagued for years by widespread and well-documented problems regarding excessive force and sexual assault investigations. Worse yet, the department has repeatedly promised reform, only to objectively fail to take basic steps to make good on such pledges."

Eaves' letter, dated Dec. 11, asked the Department of Justice to review the strides made by the Police Department, including the launch of a modern software system to improve records management and evidence tracking. Eaves said the department received an updated policy manual just this month — something the Department of Justice recommended more than 3 1/2 years ago.

In his letter, Eaves noted that seven years have passed since federal investigators opened an investigation into allegations of excessive force by police in Harvey. The probe resulted in a 2012 report in which Justice Department officials said they could find no evidence of a pattern and practice of excessive force, something Eaves has repeatedly cited to counter criticism of the department.

But that report was hardly the clean bill of health Eaves has publicly portrayed it to be. Instead, it found that Harvey police officers weren't properly documenting the nature of and reason for the use of force, creating "an environment in which constitutional violations are more likely, as officers will know they will not be held accountable." The Justice Department also declared the Harvey department at the time "devoid of supervisory oversight and accountability."

Justice Department officials did not return messages.

The sheriff's office this year completed an audit that found widespread flaws in Harvey's policing. Eaves wrote in his letter to the Department of Justice that while he did not agree with every finding in Dart's assessment, "areas that required correction were immediately addressed." He questioned why the sheriff would request a federal probe when Dart's assessment praised the department for its cooperation with his office.

"Why these accusations were made to shed a bad light on the department, I don't know," Eaves told the Tribune. "I'm just saying that, regarding the Justice Department and Cook County Sheriff's Department recommendations, the department has made great strides in improving the Harvey Police Department and will continue to make strides."

Officials with the sheriff's office defended the assessment, which was done at the request of the Harvey City Council because of concern about how well it was equipped to combat crime in the suburb.

"Following the release of the assessment, the Harvey Police Department seemingly failed to acknowledge the serious issues or indicate to the assessment team whether or how they would be corrected," said Cara Smith, a top Dart aide. "We are very encouraged that Harvey officials are open to another review by the Department of Justice — the residents of Harvey deserve nothing less."

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