$236,000 for a Camera?

County produces documents that appear to show millions of dollars wasted

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Getty Images/National Geographic RF
    Born out the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Project Shield is an initiative that is supposed to create a comprehensive network of video cameras throughout Cook County to assist first responders in an emergency. The cameras would beam live pictures to a video complex at the Cook County building, where command decisions would be made.

    An NBC Chicago / Chicago Sun-Times Exclusive: What's the cost of security from a terrorist attack in Cook County?

    According to Project Shield, the answer is $48 million.

    Documents Appear to Confirm Millions Wasted

    [CHI] Documents Appear to Confirm Millions Wasted
    After five years and $48 million in Homeland Security grants, Project Shield continues to be surrounded by controversy.

    What's Project Shield?

    Born out the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Project Shield is an initiative that is supposed to create a comprehensive network of video cameras throughout Cook County to assist first responders in an emergency. The cameras would beam live pictures to a video complex at the Cook County building, where command decisions would be made.

    Congressman Calls for Investigation into Project Shield

    [CHI] Congressman Calls for Investigation into Project Shield
    A program to outfit police cars in 128 municipalities with live video cameras is over budget, and its effectiveness called into question.

    But after five years and $48 million in Homeland Security grants, Project Shield is surrounded by controversy.

    What do we mean?

    Despite Antonio Hylton, the recently fired head of Project Shield, having told NBC Chicago in December that the initiative had zero written Quality Assurance reports, as required by contract, the County has recently emerged with reports dating back to August 2008: totaling 4,436 pages.

    The Quality Assurance reports were done by Synch-Solutions, which was awarded grants totaling $1 million to keep tabs on the program. The reports show that only 60 percent -- or 76 -- of the 129 communities that were originally targeted have cameras that are up and running at 100 percent.

    What's the average cost of installing and operating just one functioning camera?

    Documents show the cost is $236,000.

    Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica claims fraud, waste and abuse has occurred.

    "We have a system that is at best marginal, at worst it provides no additional communication capacity to the first responders," said Peraica. "I believe what has happened here should be the subject of a criminal investigation."

    The cameras were to be installed in three phases at a cost of $31.5 million. But Project Shield is a year and a half behind schedule and millions of dollars over its original budget.

    "This is money that is supposed to protect the public but it is not being used to do that," Commissioner Forrest Claypool said in an interview last year. "There should be much greater oversight of this money and how it is spent so the taxpayers get their money’s worth."

    Beginning in September 2008 and going through at least January 2009, the Quality Assurance reports have also noted "missing inventory lists" placing the "inventory process in jeopardy."

    Inventory lists were incomplete said John Sterling, CEO of Synch Solutions. But he added, "We are not aware of any missing inventory as of December 31, 2009."

    Peraica said in 2008 he began to raise questions about missing items.

    "“I wanted to know where is the hardware so I can go out there and touch it, put my hands on it," said Peraica.

    But Peraica never got the chance. Denied he says he was told that it was a "highly sensitive national security matter."

    Former County Commissioner and now Congressman Mike Quigley (D- 5th District) last year asked for an audit by the General Accountability Office. He was joined in his request by Congressman Mark Kirk (R-10th District), who last week quizzed DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano during a hearing on how Project Shield funds have been spent and the status of any audit.

    "We have reports that Project Shield, out of DHS, funded bankrupt companies, phony surveillance programs, and companies that did not exist and falsified documents," Kirk told Napolitano.

    Napolitano said her office is now looking into Project Shield.

    "It appears that under Cook County leadership much of the Project Shield money has been wasted," said Kirk.

    Federal agents have in the past interviewed at least three individuals with knowledge of Project Shield.

    "FBI needs to come in here and complete this investigation," said Peraica. "And then indict those who have, I believe, stolen taxpayer’s money."