Bipartisan call for 'Project Shield' probe

January 9, 2012 3:20:47 PM PST
There is a call for an investigation into a Cook County program funded by the Department of Homeland Security.

A new report criticizes the county's so-called "Project Shield" and the millions of dollars spent on a police car camera initiative.

After 9/11, federal grants were given to help cities and towns to try and keep citizens safer. Cook County was to implement a video system in 128 municipalities, But, 32 communities did not receive anything, and those that did get the equipment some had problems. Monday, some local officials allege more than poor management.

A bipartisan effort is calling for a criminal investigation of the Cook County program.

"It is more likely than not that criminal activity happened," said U.S. Senator Mark Kirk.

An audit from the inspector general of the US Department of Homeland security found problems with Cook County's Project Shield.

"There is a deficit of trust we are facing when things like this happen," said 5th District U.S. Representative Mike Quigley. "We can calculate the loss to taxpayers, but I assure you that the greatest cost is the deficit of trust."

The inspector general reports Project Shield cost $45 million that came FEMA as part of the Urban Areas Security Grant. The grant was for cameras and equipment for Cook County first responders to capture and share information. The audit found equipment not working, some with missing and improper records.

"This program may have been looted by Cook County officials, and the prime and secondary contractors involved," said Kirk.

Cook County's current administration halted the program and is trying to remove the devices from vehicles.

The county's current head of homeland security and emergency management, Michael Masters, also found cameras installed in his office as part of Project Shield.

More than the alleged mismanagement, Masters said the camera equipment may be dangerous in vehicles if the passenger's side airbag was not deactivated.

"The manner in which the equipment was literally configured in the vehicle--it was in the airbag deployment zone of the vehicle itself, so were the airbag to deploy, you could have a very bad situation," said Masters.

The former Cook County Board president, Todd Stroger, declined an on-camera interview. But he told ABC 7 that the call for a criminal investigation is politically motivated.

Stroger says the implementation of any large-scale system is going to have problems. He suggested that the current administration should have tried to fix the problems instead of scrapping the program.

A spokeswoman for FEMA said they had frozen funds for the project and have made changes to their grant programs with more rigorous approval and oversight.

The FBI received the request to investigate and is weighing further action.