Chicago business leaders are rightly worried about the surge of crime that’s rocked the city’s neighborhoods and recently spilled over onto the streets of downtown. Nearly every day—and certainly every weekend—brings word of carnage that shocks the people who live and work in this town and further damages our global reputation.
Fortunately, there’s more business leaders can do about it than wring their hands and complain.
Three organizations—Chicago CRED, READI Chicago and Communities Partnering 4 Peace—are working together to reduce gun violence, and preliminary data indicates they may have struck on a formula that works. What they need now, of course, is money. But they need even more than that: They seek partners in the business community who are willing to work with them to provide employment opportunities to people who are trying to turn their lives around.
In a conversation with Crain’s editors and reporters Sept. 23, leaders of these three groups explained that their goal now is to take an intervention program that’s shown promise in pockets of the city and scale it up. What does “scale” look like? Well, it’s believed that there are about 20,000 individuals in the city of Chicago responsible for the lion’s share of the gang and gun violence that’s rattled us all—a fairly amazing observation when you get right down to it. Twenty-thousand people. In a city of 2.7 million. And the people who specialize in violence prevention—from the police to the street-level activists responding to the crisis—pretty much know who they are.
The coalition of violence prevention experts who met with Crain’s argue their method of reaching these individuals has shown major results. Just as an example, preliminary research on the READI program from the University of Chicago Crime Lab shows participants at-risk for gun violence stay engaged in the program and have 79% fewer arrests for shootings and homicides compared with a randomized control group with similar backgrounds who do not get services from READI. Similarly, a study for Chicago CRED conducted by the Northwestern Neighborhood & Network Initiative (N3) shows the number of fatal and nonfatal gunshot injuries across CRED participants in the Roseland neighborhood decreased 50% and arrests for violent crimes decreased 48% in the 18 months after joining the program. Similar N3 research on the Communities Partnering 4 Peace program finds participants have lower rates of victimization and violent arrests after 18 months in the program.
How do these organizations achieve results like this? By reaching out to at-risk people in their coverage area—a fraction of those 20,000 known originators of potential mayhem—and immersively and comprehensively meeting their needs, be it counseling to learn coping skills, guidance to identify better ways to handle conflict, assistance to complete abandoned educations, or training that prepares them for a job. And that end goal—gainful employment—can put food on the table, provide a roof over their heads and offer an alternative to a life of crime.
The activists reckon it would cost $400 million a year over five years to reach the 20,000-plus people in the city who really need this sort of intervention. That’s a far cry from the $135 million in federal funds the Lightfoot administration has earmarked in next year’s budget to fund anti-violence programs. In fact, as Crain’s columnist Greg Hinz points out, that $400 million investment is roughly what the mayor wants to spend on police next year. Asks Eddie Bocanegra, executive director of READI Chicago, “What’s been the return on investment from the police?”
What Bocanegra and his counterparts need now is for the private sector to seize this opportunity to support programs that appear to be working and could actually provide a road map toward a less violent future for the city. None of them would complain if a business leader reading this now were to write a big check to support their cause. But, in the teach-a-man-to-fish spirit that’s more likely to lead to lasting change, CEOs must be looking now for ways to create job opportunities for successful graduates of programs like READI Chicago, Chicago CRED and Communities Partnering 4 Peace. Employers including F.H. Paschen, Blommer Chocolate and DLA Piper, just to name a few, have already gotten the message. But more are needed. An investment in even one of these at-risk men can yield benefits that go well beyond a company’s bottom line.