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Preckwinkle Kills Project Shield

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Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle Thursday put an end to a controversial $44 million federally funded program called Project Shield.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle Thursday put an end to a controversial $44 million federally funded program called Project Shield.

"Project Shield was not working and it is time we went in a new direction," Preckwinkle said at a press conference. "The problems in the Project Shield program have been well documented in the past and we undertook a careful review of the program in light of those issues."

Problems with Project Shield have been highlighted in an ongoing NBC Chicago / Chicago Sun-Times investigation of equipment that failed, cost overruns, delays and allegations of political insider deals.

"There has been perhaps no greater example of the issues and challenges confronting the Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management than the program known as Project Shield," said Mike Masters who is the Director of the program.

"What I have learned is beyond troubling, a system allegedly  designed for first responders, it was conceived with, as far as I can tell, little or no comprehensive input from boots on the ground. A complaint constantly heard from police and fire officials," he said.

In 2004 the county began receiving federal grants to place live mobile cameras in suburban police cars. The cameras were supposed to be able to stream live video back to a command center in times of emergencies.  Some suburban police departments embraced Project Shield, others said the system did not work and opted out.  In the end, there was no network.

IBM was selected as the original contractor for what were called Phases 1 and 2 but were replaced by Johnson Controls, Inc. for Phase 3. IBM did not return our phone call.

"Cook County has at best a semi-functional system and at worse a glaring example of mismanagement and poor design," Masters said.

Including how the cameras and computers were placed in squad cars. According to Masters, in an accident deploying the air bag, the hardware could become projectiles, injuring officers.

But it was the lack of total oversight that the Preckwinkle administration said caused it to end the program, with too many problems and too few solutions, which offered little in protection for the public.

"While we cannot change the decisions made in the past we will chart a course forward," Preckwinkle said.

Federal investigators began looking into how funds for the program were being used back in July 2009.

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