Harvey looking for help with homicides
By Lauren FitzPatrick firstname.lastname@example.org February 7, 2011 12:06AM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
The beleaguered city of Harvey has asked the South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force for help solving dozens of its unsolved homicide cases, the SouthtownStar has learned.
Officials at the Cook County sheriff’s office and the Illinois State Police are considering a move to take over the approximately 15 to 20 open murder cases in Harvey, a city with a well-documented history of police ineptitude and corruption, while the task force reviews its membership application.
The plan comes as Cook County government grapples with a $487 million budget deficit, and the sheriff’s office itself faces possible budget cuts of more than $50 million. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is expected to discuss his plans regarding Harvey during county budget hearings Monday, a spokesman confirmed.
Harvey has made informal inquiries for help in the past, but never followed up, said Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy, who heads the task force. And when a U.S. congressman in 2006 called on outside agencies to swoop in and help, Harvey Mayor Eric Kellogg refused.
It’s one of four south suburban Cook County departments — along with Robbins, Phoenix and Dixmoor — not already a member. Had Harvey been part of the task force last year its homicides alone would have represented about a quarter of the organization’s total caseload. The task force handled about 50 cases last year.
Kellogg faces re-election in April, and at least one challenger has made police problems a campaign issue. His administration denies political motives.
“(Harvey) expressed interest several times in the past and they have expressed interest again,” McCarthy said. “So we will be getting together.”
Harvey police applied for membership in December.
Joining now would cost Harvey a one-time $4,600 fee, McCarthy said. Departments in the task force must have their investigators screened and enroll in the South Suburban Chiefs of Police.
The earliest approval could be granted is in March, McCarthy said. He declined to speculate on how the members might vote.
Harvey pays taxes too
It could make sense for sheriff’s office and state police investigators to assume the 2010 cases, sheriff spokesman Steve Patterson said.
“Harvey taxpayers are taxpayers to the county and the state and would be entitled to this,” Patterson said. “The reality is, when any suburb says they need help, we are obligated to explore it.
Patterson said there “was some concern” about the city’s willingness to be open and accessible and its history, including the so-called missing gun case, when a handgun allegedly used in multiple shootings disappeared on the eve of trial. The Harvey detective who sold it back to the defendant’s family is serving prison time.
The department has had other issues, too.
Rape kits languished untested and moldy in an evidence room. Guns were stolen from the city’s shooting range and found in a field. Four police officers were arrested in December 2008, accused of providing muscle to a drug ring that did deals in Tinley Park, Oak Lawn, Matteson and Homewood.
The FBI raided the station then, and county authorities raided it in 2007, removing homicide files, and uncovering dozens upon dozens of untested rape kits that had been languishing.
The sheriff’s department already serves as the police department in Ford Heights, evidence technicians in Cicero and the entire county’s bomb squad, Patterson said. Detectives who normally investigate in unincorporated areas would work the unsolved homicides, he said.
Dart is facing a possible budget cut of about 12 percent, or $53 million. Such a cut could lead to about 100 layoffs.
The task force has served as an insurance policy for its members solving about 70 percent of its cases, McCarthy said. When one has a homicide on its hands, the others spring to action, sending officers and equipment for the first few days and picking up the tab for overtime expenses.
Area police say Harvey’s 2010 murders could stress the police departments that are on the task force.
Sandra Alvarado, a Harvey city and police spokeswoman, said she didn’t know how many murders happened in Harvey in 2010, but atterson said the number seems to be between 15 and 20.
Mayor Eric Kellogg is up for re-election this spring and faces several challengers, including one campaiging against police corruption. But Alvarado said politics was not behind the application: “One has nothing to do with the other.”