Police investing in new video technology

October 28, 2008 3:21:07 PM PDT
Cook County plans to buy a fleet of squad cars that will use new video technology to connect dozens of communities. The program is called Project Shield and is being financed with funds provided by the Department of Homeland Security. But some people are calling the plan a $40 million boondoggle.

One shiny, new sheriff's squad has a camera up front - capable of streaming live video, a technological helper for first responders at a crime scene or natural disaster.

"You can view, from an onboard camera system at the time of the incident, a real-life scenario," said Antonio Hylton, Cook Co. chief information officer.

The video from the squad camera could be fed live to the county's Communications Command Center. There will be 82 live-feed, camera-equipped squads. Most of them will go to suburban Cook County police departments. All of them are paid for with homeland security dollars.

"This project cannot afford to be lost. This is a start for municipalities to get on board with what Chicago has," said Matt Evans, Westchester police chief.

The County's version of what Chicago has is called Project Shield. It includes dozens of permanently mounted cameras, including one atop the Niles police station, and the squad cameras.

Shield has had problems. A sub-contractor went bankrupt. Earlier versions of the cameras were installed in police squads in four dozen communities, and there were bugs.

Some of those communities say the earlier versions of the cameras had so many technical problems, they've just given up on them.

"The project is two-and-a-half years behind, and the mobile component still doesn't work," siad Tony Peraica, Cook County commissioner.

Republican candidate for state's attorney Peraica has been Project Shield's biggest critic, calling it poorly administered and a criminal loss of taxpayer dollars.

Dan Coughlin runs Project Shield and acknowledges there have been problems - political, technical and training, but says they're being addressed, and that Shield's tools are vital.

Videos are essential. They're not the only answer. We can't fall asleep and say this is a solution. It is a partial solution," said Coughlin.

While the technology is remarkable, it's still in its infancy. It's also expensive, but a number of suburban chiefs on Tuesday made it clear they want the tools.


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