This article was published in the Chicago Sun-Times on January 10, 2012
By Carol Marin and Don Moseley
In a letter to the FBI, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) have requested “a criminal probe into the missing records, equipment and money from Project Shield.”
More than $45-million was spent on the Cook County Homeland Security program. But a six-month probe by the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security cites numerous abuses including equipment that did not work, unallowable costs and unaccountable inventory items.
“This program may have been looted by Cook County officials and the prime and secondary contractors involved,” Kirk said at a Loop news conference. “We don’t have specific criminal activity that the IG found, but there’s a lot of smoke there. And so we think the FBI should go in and find the fire.”
Funding for Project Shield happened in three phases. IBM was the prime contractor for the first two phases and Johnson Controls of Milwaukee was the contractor for Phase 3. IBM declined to comment and Johnson Controls could not be reached for comment.
“When you waste Homeland Security money you are less safe,” said Quigley who was a chief critic of the program when he was a Cook County commissioner.
“This put our citizens at risk and it just can’t continue,” he said.
All 128 suburbs in Cook County were supposed to have two police squad cars equipped to beam live video back to a central command. Fixed mounted cameras were to be placed in communities as well.
Among the specifics mentioned by Kirk were “change orders, all adding to costs and yet the IG could find no documentation for it.” Another area was missing gear that was noted in the IG’s report. “They found in their survey 18% of the equipment that was decommissioned was missing. Obviously that could have been fenced. So it gives you the indication that criminal activity may have happened here,” Kirk said.
Project Shield was born out of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and was originally begun under the administration of Cook County Board President John Stroger. His son and successor, Todd Stroger, continued the program. Efforts to reach Todd Stroger, who lost in a 2010 re-election bid, were unsuccessful.
Project Shield was ended early in the administration of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Michael Masters, who is the current Executive Director of Homeland Security for the county, said they are conducting their own audit in an effort to find the missing documents and inventory cited in the IG’s report.
According to Masters the federal grants were used to purchase 450 cameras, including approximately 300 fixed pole mounted cameras.
“At the end of the day for $45 million what Cook County got was roughly 450 cameras,” Masters said, “how can something that costs $45-million go towards (only) 450 cameras?”
Quigley said the abuses cited by the Inspector General added to a deficit of trust by taxpayers and said additional investigations should occur nationwide into how Homeland Security money is spent.
“How are our Homeland Security dollars being spent because if it can happen in Cook County, it can happen anywhere,” Quigley said.