Suburban police security Project Shield "failed on all accounts"

July 1, 2011

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(WBEZ/Jennifer Brandel)
Michael Masters from the Department of Homeland Security and Cook County Board President Preckwinkle announce the project's end.
(WBEZ/Jennifer Brandel)
The computer and cameras installed for Project Shield would act as projectiles if driver or passenger airbags deployed.
The equipment installed in squad cars is outdated and costs $65,000 per car.

An expensive homeland security project in Cook County is ending. "Project Shield" was supposed to help suburban police in emergency situations. But Michael Masters from the Department of Homeland Security says it failed on all accounts.

In theory, Project Shield funded two things: stationary police cameras in the suburbs and video cameras that sent live footage from police cars to command centers for emergency decision making. But it turns out that concept isn't the way police protocols actually work. Police on the ground make decisions in emergencies - not commanders stationed off-site. Another problem is that many of the camera systems installed didn't actually work. And where they were installed posed huge safety risks to officers.

Masters gave the press a tour of an outfitted vehicle with the $65,000 gear. He pointed at the laptop positioned between the driver and passenger area with camera above and said, "You can pretty much readily see as to where a passenger airbag is going to deploy - that it is going to deploy directly into this system." Masters added that the cost of the camera system is about three times the cost of police cars themselves.

138 suburban squad cars have these systems, and Cook County officials have asked police to stop using the cars until the equipment is removed.

But beyond the project's technical failings, DHS, Cook County and possibly the FBI are investigating alleged corruption, too. Project Shield's $44 million in federal tax dollars were awarded in part to businesses with ties to a Cook County employee.

Plus, $190,000 a month is still being paid to Johnson Controls, Inc. - the contractor responsible for maintaining the unreliable equipment. The county has put in a request for a more detailed invoice from  Johnson Controls, Inc. so they can see exactly how that  money is being spent.