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Feds find failures in Cook Co. homeland security project

Project Shield was supposed make citizens safer but failed Cook County initiative was replete with equipment thfailed work missing records

Project Shield was supposed to make citizens safer, but the failed Cook County initiative was replete with equipment that failed to work, missing records and untrained first responders according to a report by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department

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Updated: February 10, 2012 8:34AM

Project Shield was supposed to make citizens safer. But in the end, the $45-million Homeland Security program more resembled a disaster, wasting taxpayers’ dollars and failing to make a single citizen more secure.

The failed Cook County initiative was replete with equipment that failed to work, missing records and untrained first responders according to a report by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The report, to be released Monday but obtained by The Sun-Times and NBC5 News, found “millions of tax dollars may have been wasted.”

Under Project Shield, two police squad cars in all 128 Cook County suburbs were to be fitted with cameras capable of feeding live video to a central command. In addition, fixed mounted cameras were to be installed to feed pictures in case of a terrorist attack or emergency in Cook County.

A six-month investigation by the IG found “equipment was not working, was removed, or could not be properly operated.”

Investigators visited 15 municipalities between January and June last year and found “missing records, improper procurement practices, unallowable costs and unaccountable inventory items.”

Project Shield began under the administration of Cook County Board President John Stroger. The majority of the work, however, occurred during the term of his successor and son Todd Stroger.

Installations began in March 2005. By 2008, complaints of mismanagement and fraud were raised, led by then County Commissioners Tony Peraica, Forrest Claypool and Mike Quigley.

In 2009, Quigley, then a congressman (D-5th), asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate, saying, “We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars across the country on homeland security. If Project Shield is any indication, we are less safe.”

Sen. Mark Kirk, who was then a congressman, joined in, complaining to Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano that money had been completely wasted and the department inattentive.

“A Google search of $43-million wasted should come to your attention,” Kirk said at a 2010 congressional hearing.

Among the IG’s findings: Cameras in police cars malfunctioned during extreme hot and cold temperatures, there was a lack of training, and the camera systems were never adequately tested.

IBM was the initial contractor for the first two phases of Project Shield. Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls was brought in for Phase 3. According to the IG’s report, from beginning to end there were technical problems.

Fixed cameras mounted on poles also were problematic, according to the report. “These camera often targeted police parking lots, streets and intersections with questionable homeland security benefits,” investigators found. Fixed cameras were even placed in police station lobbies.

Almost from the beginning, some of the 128 suburbs opted out after technical snafus. And in the end the IG found “32 never had equipment, 9 left the program” and at the end, just “71 have vehicle video systems.”

The FBI, according to sources, investigated, but no charges have been filed.

The report takes FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to task for lack of oversight.

Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) grants were funneled from DHS to the State and on to Cook County. The report concludes, “FEMA did not adequately ensure that the State of Illinois effectively monitored Cook County’s expenditures...”

And questions remain. “Both FEMA and the State need to improve the review process and perform better oversight,” according to the IG, adding proposed actions to better monitor how funds are spent “remains unresolved and open.”

What is no longer operational is Project Shield. New County Board President Toni Preckwinkle ended the program last summer after a very troubled seven-year history.

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