$43 million later, Homeland Security project bogged downNBC5/SUN-TIMES INVESTIGATION | Project Shield anti-terror cameras not fully functional
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
by Carol Marin and Don Moseley
In the last five years, Cook County has gotten nearly $43 million
from the U.S. Homeland Security Department for Project Shield, a
program that's supposed to equip all 128 suburbs countywide with
state-of-the-art video cameras.
The aim: to provide immediate live video from police cars and other
locations to a central command in case of terrorism or other emergency.
Backers say that would let authorities move quickly to provide police
and rescue workers with vital information.
But Project Shield remains dogged by problems, a Chicago
Sun-Times/NBC5 investigation found. Already 36 percent over budget, the
massive effort now isn't expected to be fully operational until 2011 --
three years late. Even then, it could be without a number of suburbs
that opted out because of problems.
"I think the federal government has to investigate what's happened
with Project Shield so far and re-evaluate its effectiveness," said
U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), a former Cook County commissioner
who's asking the Government Accountability Office to investigate. "And
if it decides it is not working, it's going to have to start over, with
someone else overseeing the entire project."
In all, Cook County has been awarded more than $100 million from the
Homeland Security Department since 2003 as a response to the Sept. 11,
2001, terrorist attacks. Not all of that has been received, or spent.
When terrorists struck, a lack of accurate, immediate communication
hampered first responders. Project Shield is Cook County's answer to
Begun in the administration of the late Cook County Board President
John Stroger, Project Shield was to be completed in three phases, at a
cost of $31.5 million. As of August, the county has spent
$42,961,306.38 on Project Shield.
Stroger's office declined requests for interviews with those in charge of Project Shield.
IBM got the Phase 1 and 2 contract. On Aug. 7, 2006, Dan Coughlin,
executive director of the Cook County Judicial Advisory Council, which
oversees the grants, said the "system . . . has been extensively tested
and is now operational in 27 municipalities."
But two years later, after spending $26 million and still suffering
with technical problems, IBM -- which declined requests for an
interview -- was dumped.
According to Quigley, a key subcontractor filed for bankruptcy -- after installing cameras that didn't work.
IBM was replaced last year by Johnson Controls, and, as of July, the
county boasted that 90 first-responder vehicles had cameras.
The cameras are working in Evanston, Elmwood Park, Glencoe and
Palatine. But other police departments have complained of problems --
including cameras that don't work. As a result, Berwyn, Forest Park,
Morton Grove, Norridge, Park Ridge, Tinley Park and University Park
have abandoned Project Shield.
"Every municipality in the county was supposed to be involved," said Quigley. "If you leave several out . . . it's useless."
In Oak Park, two police cars now have cameras. "You would dispatch
those two cars and . . . could have a clear view of what is occurring
there, and then make some valid decisions," said Oak Park Police Chief
He's a supporter. Still, at a recent demonstration, the video from a
patrol car driving down a street was so bad it was impossible at times
to clearly see.
Oak Park is home to one of three mobile command vans for Project
Shield. Each cost $400,000. But the vans haven't been tested to see if
they can communicate with one another, according to Tanksley, and can't
access other cameras.
"Money has been allocated for that," Tanksley said, "and we hope, in the next six months, to have that achieved."
With all that's been spent, Quigley said, all that's been gained is "the feeling of being safer."
Don Moseley is an NBC5 producer.