A Chicago Tribune report inspires Ill. lawmakers to pen a letter to the DOJ, demanding an investigation into the practices of the Harvey Police Department.
Following the release of a recent Chicago Tribune investigation, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) sent a letter to the Department of Justice’s Inspector General Mike Horowitz on Wednesday, requesting an investigation into the Harvey Police Department and the city’s controversial Mayor Eric Kellogg.
In their letter, the lawmakers wrote that they were specifically concerned about the types of policing tactics used by federal agents, whether alleged police abuses were being properly investigated and measures Mayor Kellogg may have taken to ensure he was re-elected — issues the lawmakers said they became concerned about after reading the Tribune’s report.
“According to a Feb. 11, 2014 Chicago Tribune report (‘State, feds turned blind eye to problems in Harvey’) an undercover FBI agent using the name ‘Carlos Vargas’ was investigating local elected officials and police officers while serving as the manager of the Skybox strip club in Harvey,” the letter says. “In 2007 Vargas established the Harvey Good Government Group in conjunction with that year’s mayoral election.”
“According to the Chicago Tribune, Vargas raised for the committee more than $140,000, which was spent on political activities that aided the re-election of Mayor Kellogg. The FBI has stated taxpayer dollars were not used to fund the activities of the Harvey Good Government Group, but the news reports indicate the FBI’s undercover agent was responsible for establishing the committee and raising money to benefit a public official,” the letter says.
“The use of federal resources to influence elections in communities where criminal investigations are ongoing warrants special scrutiny. This matter deserves your attention.”
The release of Kirk and Kelly’s letter comes as Kelly and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) penned a joint letter asking the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago to explain its actions, or lack thereof, for holding the police department accountable. It also comes days after Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart pushed for local authorities to intervene in troubled Chicago suburbs like Harvey.
Dart’s proposal is still being considered by the county board.
High crime, no action
In addition to their concerns about the subpar policing in the city, which has been called more dangerous than some of Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods, Kirk and Kelly expressed concern about the city’s high crime rate and have asked federal prosecutors to investigate what is being done to reduce crime.
While a civil rights investigation in 2012 found problems in the police department, Justice officials opted not to exercise their authority to force the department to reform some of its more controversial practices.
According to the Chicago Tribune report, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department “spent three years — from December 2008 to January 2012 — reviewing Harvey’s haphazardly kept records and noted ‘serious concerns’ that officers routinely roughed up residents.”
Though the Harvey Police Department was found to be “devoid of supervisory oversight and accountability,” nothing was done about it.
Justice Department officials have declined to explain their decision to do nothing, but one thing that is known is that the Justice officials had every right to do something. As the Tribune reported, “The division has immense power through the federal courts to demand that problem departments shape up,” and have enforced reform in other departments who were unfairly targeting and ticketing minorities or conducting shoddy rape investigations.
Talking to the Tribune, Nebraska-based criminologist Sam Walker, a national expert on police accountability who once served as a consultant to the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, said he was surprised by the Justice official’s decision as well, “given how utterly dysfunctional the department appears.”
Walker explained that since federal officials “had plenty of evidence of widespread problems in Harvey,” he would have expected them to push for the appointment of an outside monitor.
However, getting away with disregarding the law seems to be a pattern for those in Harvey.
Under Illinois state law, cities and villages are required to hire a licensed auditor to go through their books and release a report on the city’s financial state every year “to ensure public finances are readily known and aboveboard.”
As the Tribune discovered, “Harvey stopped producing the audits in Kellogg’s second term, saying they were too expensive.
“During the information blackout, the Tribune has found through records, the city borrowed millions while failing to set aside millions more for legally required public safety pension payments. Harvey also obtained water from the city of Chicago on credit, sold it to residents and other suburbs, then stiffed Chicago on multimillion-dollar bills, according to court records.”
Harvey deserves a just government
“Harvey’s citizens — like all citizens — must be confident in the honesty and trustworthiness of their government officials and law enforcement. The U.S. Department of Justice plays an invaluable role in rooting out corruption in state and local governments and has a well-established history with the City of Harvey,” Kirk and Kelly wrote in their letter.
Kelly’s district includes Harvey. The congresswoman said she decided to get involved because, “There are many, many good people in Harvey. They deserve to feel confident in their government and their police force, and they deserve good government.”
Senator Durbin agrees, and in his joint letter with Kelly, asked U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon to explain in detail what his office is doing to combat crime in the city since a three-year civil rights investigation found “serious deficiencies.”
Though the Democratic lawmakers said they hoped federal resources could be used, they encouraged Fardon to use whatever resources he had available currently “to bring some relief from violent crime to the citizens of Harvey…and to ensure that the actions of federal law enforcement do not contribute to the challenges facing Harvey.”
So far, the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago has opted to stay mum. But Kellogg and his police chief have pushed back, arguing that crime has dropped in the city and the department is doing the best it can given the tough financial times.
Kellogg, however, has declined to answer any questions about his re-election campaign and the role of the FBI agent’s committee in his campaign. His office has also declined to comment on the letters sent by lawmakers this week.