Chicago anti-terrorism program may have wasted $44 million, report finds

Broken cameras, amateur first-responders, a muddle of paperwork and $44 million wasted were what Cook County's Homeland Security program dubbed Project Shield has boiled down to, according to a federal report released yesterday.

A six-month investigation by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security found that the program--which was part of a post-9/11 push for increased security--had “missing records, improper procurement practices, unallowable costs and unaccountable inventory items.” Cook County pulled the plug on the program last summer, but this is the first comprehensive review since it was first instituted in 2005.

The initiative focused on installing police cameras in suburban Chicagoland. Stationary cameras were placed in areas that could be susceptible to terrorist attacks. And 256 police cars were fitted with cameras that sent live video to the central command center.

Questions about the effectiveness of local homeland security projects are not new. Back in 2002, a Chicago Reporter investigation found that Chicago’s terrorism prevention plans were impossible to assess in large part because they were shrouded in secrecy. City officials, firefighters and even police officers were in the dark about what Chicago's emergency preparedness plan entailed.

“Whether there is a plan, whether it exists or not, I don't know," Southwest Side Alderman Thomas W. Murphy told the Reporter at the time.

Yet, the program had a very public presence. Both Project Shield and former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s penchant for surveillance earned Chicago the dubious honor of being home to the “most extensive and integrated” network of surveillance cameras in the country, according to a 2011 report by the American Civil Liberties Union.

In the report, the group suggests that to keep cameras from invading individuals’ privacy the images taken should be regularly discarded, and that invasive technology, like face recognition software, should only be used if there is probable cause. They also called on Chicago officials to stop installing cameras altogether.

The new federal report also found overreach: “These camera often targeted police parking lots, streets and intersections with questionable homeland security benefits,” the investigators noted. Ultimately, the impetus to scrap the program was primarily because it failed to keep people safe.

“We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars across the country on homeland security. If Project Shield is any indication, we are less safe,” said U.S. Rep Mike Quigley, who called the project a scandal. He's now calling on the Government Accountability Office to probe the program. But the feds aren't making any promises.

© Community Renewal Society 2011

Leave a comment