Chicago's Cook County wasted millions on Project Shield

Tools

Cook County, Ill., which includes Chicago, wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on a mishandled effort to enable first responders to capture and share video and data, according to a December report (.pdf) from the Homeland Security Department inspector general.

The intent of Project Shield was for mobile and fixed cameras to transmit video to decision makers during an emergency so they could strategically deploy first responders.

But municipalities started to experience equipment problems shortly after installations began in 2005, and as of April 2011, equipment problems and training issues remained prevalent, the report says. County officials told the IG that they initiated Project Shield at a time when funds were not available to conduct planning, so minimal planning occurred prior to implementation.

Officials did test the concept in June 2003 at the U.S. Open Golf Tournament, but the conditions there were not representative of the extreme temperatures that the county experiences annually. Later, the equipment failed during extreme hot and cold temperatures.

During the implementation phase, the report adds, the county learned that the Project Shield software was not compatible with municipalities' central dispatch systems, so some police officers could not access critical databases--for criminal records, warrants, license plates and vehicle registrations--from their vehicles.

Also, cameras were often mounted on police communication towers simply because of distance limitations, reception problems and the costs for hardwiring, even though they often targeted areas with questionable homeland security benefits and sometimes duplicated existing capabilities, the report notes.

The IG visited 15 Cook County municipalities and found equipment malfunctions, unused equipment and uncertainty on how to operate it. Four of those municipalities had returned all of their Project Shield equipment, 10 complained about the quality of training or lack thereof and four were unable to or unsure how to transmit video to the command center.

Between 2003 and 2009, the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided about $58 million in Urban Areas Security Initiative grant funds for Project Shield, and Cook County has spent $45 million of that to date. The IG investigation found that Cook County was missing records, did not properly follow procurement practices and had unallowable costs and unaccountable inventory items.

The report recommends that FEMA discontinue future Project Shield funds until the grantee validates effective use of the equipment and ensures that the costs are reasonable and allowable.

For more:
- download the IG report (.pdf)

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