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FBI looking at Cook County’s troubled Project Shield

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Project Shield — Cook County’s troubled post-9/11 security initiative — has come under scrutiny by the FBI, the Chicago Sun-Times and NBC5 News have learned.

Auditors from the federal Department of Homeland Security had been looking into the program, which is years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget, and found something in the course of their review “that sparked the FBI’s interest,” according to a source familiar with the investigation.

FBI officials wouldn’t comment.

A spokeswoman for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said her staff is cooperating with investigators.

The Homeland Security Department audit had been requested by U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, the Northwest Side Democrat, and then-U.S. Rep. and now-U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). They asked the federal agency to determine why the project — which has spent $45 million in federal money in an effort to blanket the county in stationary and mobile security cameras — remains plagued by such basic problems as cameras that don’t work.

Quigley, a former county commissioner, calls county officials’ handling of Project Shield “a scandal. I think it is going to take another year or so to unfold, as any investigation moves forward.”

Project Shield began in 2004, during the administration of the late Cook County Board President John Stroger. Most of the work for the project, though, was done after Stroger died and was succeeded by his son, Todd Stroger, as president of the county board.

Initially, Project Shield was supposed to be finished by the fall of 2008, at a projected cost of $31.5 million.

But that figure has ballooned, even as the work has fallen far behind schedule. The Sun-Times and NBC5 previously reported that about $45 million in federal money has been spent on the project — and that Cook County officials have asked for an additional $5 million.

Project Shield is supposed to improve emergency communications and decision-making in case of a natural disaster, terror attack or other major emergency, with video cameras in police cars and at stationary locations throughout Cook County allowing authorities to more quickly assess and deal with trouble.

But Project Shield has been dogged by problems including equipment failures and by questions about how county officials have overseen the development and cost of the program by private contractors. As a result, some cities and police departments have elected not to be part of the effort.

A year ago, Stroger fired Antonio Hylton, the county’s chief information officer, who had been hired in 2008 to oversee what was to be the final phase of Project Shield’s development.

Another official involved with the program — Dan Coughlin, who as head of the Cook County Judicial Advisory Council oversaw homeland security grants — left that post after Preckwinkle took office last fall.

Don Moseley is an NBC5 producer.



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