A Cook County Homeland Security initiative wasted millions of dollars in taxpayer money without improving public safety, according to a report released Monday.
Faulty equipment, inefficient data-sharing and poorly-trained staff members were blamed for the failure of Project Shield in the report, compiled by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The $45 million program began in 2004 and was centered on installing and operating live mobile cameras in suburban police cars.
"Misusing taxpayer dollars on a highway project leaves us with less money, but misusing taxpayer dollars on homeland security also leaves us less safe," Congressman Mike Quigley said in a statement when Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle pulled the plug on the program in July. "To make matters worse, the Project Shield devices have been putting first responders in danger, which is egregious and unacceptable."
The six-month IG investigation checked operations at 15 municipalities between January and June 2011, where two squad cars in each of Cook County's 128 suburbs were supposed to be equipped with a camera that could feed data to a central command in the event of a terrorist attack, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. But the IG found that the camera systems hadn't been properly tested, and malfunctioned during extreme temperatures. Additional problems throughout communications, from missing records to undertrained staff members unable to efficiently transmit information, crippled the first-response system.
The IG report also confirms allegations of fraud and mismanagement of funds first decried by Tony Peraica, Forrest Claypool and Mike Quigley when they were County Commissioners in 2008, according to NBC Chicago. At the time, the county was paying the project's contractor $190,000 monthly to maintain the equipment at a time when fewer than half of the cameras expected, between 103 and 106, were even installed. As NBC reports, most of the work done on Project Shield was done by former county board president Todd Stroger -- whose administration was repeatedly accused of misspending taxpayer money.
The program was $12 million over budget in 2010, prompting a DHS audit early last year.
Hear Toni Preckwinkle outline problems with the program when she shut it down earlier this year:
View more videos at: http://nbcchicago.com.