Lawmakers ask FBI to open criminal probe.
Sen. Mark Kirk and Rep. Mike Quigley on Monday formally asked the FBI to open a criminal probe into Project Shield following a report suggesting millions was wasted on the program.
The $45-million Cook County Homeland Security initiative was supposed to make residents feel safe, but in the end, the troubled Project Shield resembled more of a disaster. The 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, released Monday but obtained by NBC5 News and the Sun-Times found "millions of tax dollars may have been wasted."
In response, Kirk and Quigley co-authored a letter to the FBI asking for a full investigation.
"This program may have been looted," Kirk said.
Begun in response to the 9/11 attacks, Project Shield was supposed to place cameras capable of feeding live video in two police squad cars in all 128 Cook County suburbs. 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 Project Shield was a failure on many counts. Investigators found "equipment was not working, was removed, or could not be properly operated" as well as "missing records, improper procurement practices, unallowable costs and unaccountable inventory items."
Investigators visited 15 municipalities between January and June last year.
Project Shield began under the administration of Cook County Board President John Stroger, but the majority of the work was done under his son and successor, Todd Stroger.
Installations began in March 2005. By 2008, there were complaints of mismanagement and fraud, led by then County Commissioners Tony Peraica, Forrest Claypool and Mike Quigley.
In 2009 Quigley, then a Congressman, asked the General Accounting 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."
Then Congressman and now Senator Mark Kirk joined in that request, 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 cameras 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 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.
Current County Board President Toni Preckwinkle ended the program she inherited last summer after its very troubled seven-year history.