HARVEY, Ill. (STMW) – A federal investigation of the Harvey Police Department found officers engaged in “heavy-handed uses of force that were largely avoidable.”

The Justice Department probe launched in 2008 didn’t reveal that officers were involved in a pattern of violations of the law.

But in a Jan. 18 letter to Harvey Mayor Eric Kellogg and Acting Police Chief Denard Eaves, the feds warned they might re-open their investigation if the south suburb doesn’t take “appropriate measures.”

The investigation was launched after the Cook County state’s attorney, Cook County sheriff and State Police raided the Harvey Police Department in 2007 to search for untested evidence in murders, rapes and other crimes.

More than 200 untested rape kits were discovered and the evidence led to charges against 14 people — including a sheriff’s correctional officer suspected in a 1997 assault of a child.

Federal investigators reviewed Harvey’s arrest reports and citizen complaints from 2009 and 2010. They concluded Harvey’s system for documenting officers’ use of force and investigating those incidents was “grossly inadequate.”

In a fifth of the reports, there was no description of what led to the officer’s use of force. And in nearly half the cases, the suspect was arrested for what the officer deemed “a failure to respect the officer’s authority.”

“Because there is no official charge for ‘contempt of cop,’ officers often explain the interaction by charging the person with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and/or assaulting an officer,” the Justice Department said.

“It is apparent that, at best, some of those incidents could have had a better outcome if the officer had employed different tactics. At worst, some of these incidents constitute prosecutable excessive force,” wrote Jonathan Smith, a Justice Department official.

On Tuesday, Eaves said he has launched several reforms in response to the federal investigation, including: better training in the use of force; improvements to the hiring process; reorganization of some units and an ongoing update of the policy manual. “The Harvey Police Department takes the identified deficiencies very seriously,” Eaves said.

© Sun-Times Media Wire Chicago Sun-Times 2012. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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