Kirk, Quigley want FBI investigation into Project Shield

January 9, 2012

(WBEZ/Jennifer Brandel)
U.S. Congressman Mike Quigley (front) and U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (back) want the FBI to investigate Project Shield.

Project Shield was intended to be a sophisticated system of video cameras in squad cars and key spots around the suburbs. It was to help with homeland security - transmitting live footage to police during emergency situations. The program was run by Cook County under former Board Presidents John Stroger and Todd Stroger.

But a new report out Monday by the U.S. Inspector General shows Project Shield was a mismanaged mess. Camera equipment didn't get delivered, and even when it did, it oftentimes didn't even work. The cameras and related equipment for police cars were revealed to pose safety risks, too, as they were installed in front of airbags - making the technology a potential projectile.

The $45 million dollars funding the program came from FEMA. In a news conference Monday, U.S. Republican Sen. Mark Kirk says Cook County couldn't have screwed up Project Shield any further if it tried to.

"So it does appear to be gross incompetence, waste and potential criminal activity was at the heart of this program," Kirk said.

Kirk was joined at the news conference by U.S. Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley, and both called for a FBI investigation into the program. As to why Kirk and Quigley suspect criminal conduct and not just mismanagement, Kirk said, "168 change orders all adding to cost, and yet the I.G. could find no documentation for that. So money was paid to contractors and sub-contractors for additional work and yet we have no idea what they did or how it was accounted for."

The Inspector General report also found 18% of the decommissioned equipment went missing. Quigley added the failed program essentially put citizens at risk by wasting money that should have gone to security. 

"If you waste money that could build roads, that's bad. There's no apologies that can make up for that. But here, when you waste homeland security money, you are less safe," Quigley said.

Quigley lamented missed opportunities for the project's $45 million price tag. He said that money could have gone to hiring police officers or making airports safer.

Quigley was a Cook County commissioner in 2004 when Project Shield got underway. He called for federal investigations into Project Shield in 2009 and was supported shortly thereafter by then Representative and now-Senator Mark Kirk.

Current Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle shut down the program this summer because she said it was a failure on all accounts. In a statement released Monday, Preckwinkle said, "I am very pleased that the Inspector General not only identified those same issues, but concurs with and supports the new direction of the Department."