At the end of the day, the only thing “Project Shield” covered up was a $45 million security failure in Cook County, Ill.
In a six month investigation of the initiative — which was meant to provide a wide array of video cameras to help protect citizens from terrorist attacks — the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) discovered that the equipment was malfunctioning or removed. Records and inventory associated with Project Shield were also found to be missing and mismanaged.
Two squads of police cars in every Cook County suburb were supposed to be outfitted with cameras that could transmit live video to a central location. Additional fixed-mounted cameras were also a part of the plan, designed to provide photos of scenes in case of an emergency situation in the county.
Installations of Project Shield equipment began in March 2005, with the majority of the work being done by former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger. But 32 suburbs never had the equipment and various other neighborhoods left the program entirely.
The push for the DHS to investigate the use of grant funds used on Project Shield initially came from Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley and now-Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the inspector general’s report revealed that cameras in police cars malfunctioned during extreme hot and cold temperatures, operators were questionably trained and the camera systems were never fully tested. In addition, the reported cited that fixed cameras were also a problem, many being placed in locations with “questionable” homeland security benefits, such as police station lobbies.
The Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management conducted its own review of Project Shield last summer, coming to similar conclusions as the inspector general. The county ended the program after those initial findings.
“When we looked at ‘Project Shield,’ we found a large number of issues related to this program — from its conception to its implementation,” said Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County board president, in a statement on the county’s website. “We began immediately to correct what we saw as glaring problems, ending the program.”
As for why the program failed, the inspector general’s report cites a lack of oversight from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on how the Urban Areas Security Initiative grants were passed from the DHS to Illinois and ultimately to Cook County.