Billionaire Ken Griffin takes on Chicago crime with $10M to prevent violence

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Chicago billionaire Ken Griffin is shown in April 2018 discussing his $10 million donation to reduce gun violence in the city. Also there were Mayor Rahm Emanuel (right) and Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson (left). | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Chicago’s five major sports teams pledged a total of $1 million late last year to bankroll violence-prevention programs in the city.

Now, Chicago billionaire Ken Griffin — listed by Forbes as Illinois’ richest man — is upping the ante.

Griffin is donating $10 million toward the city’s efforts to reduce gun violence, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office announced Tuesday.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel acknowledged that he and Griffin are on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Griffin, a Republican, is Gov. Bruce Rauner’s biggest contributor. And Emanuel blasted the Republican governor on Monday for vetoing a gun-store licensing bill the mayor had backed.

But Emanuel said he and Griffin are eye to eye on the need to improve Chicago. He also pointed out that the conservative Griffin supported him in his first successful bid for Congress back in 2002.

“We don’t have the same party affiliation,” Emanuel said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, “but we have the same goals of public service.”

Griffin said he hopes his donation will inspire other civic leaders to join the efforts “to make our city safer.”

“As a community, we are unified in our desire for Chicago to be a safer place to live and work,” Griffin said. “No child, anywhere, should be afraid to walk to school or play outside. A safer Chicago attracts more families and better jobs and provides a better quality of life for all.”

Griffin, founder and CEO of the Chicago hedge fund Citadel, is a major Chicago benefactor. Last year, he donated $125 million for scholarships and research in the University of Chicago’s economics department. In 2016, he gave the city $12 million to complete two bike and pedestrian paths on the 18-mile lakefront trail and another $3 million to build soccer fields across Chicago.

Griffin’s latest donation will largely support a partnership of the Chicago Police Department and University of Chicago Crime Lab. In early 2017, they opened “Strategic Decision Support Centers” in high-crime police districts.

The centers, which cost about $1.5 million each, are rooms inside police stations in which police officers and U. of C. analysts crunch gunshot data to determine where to best deploy cops. Information from gunshot detectors and surveillance cameras is displayed on large monitors. Officers have real-time access to the information via cellphone and in-car computers, alerting them to the spot where a shooting occurred.

The police department partly credits a recent decline in gun violence to the support centers. Through March, the number of homicides in Chicago was down 17 percent, and the number of shooting victims decreased 30 percent compared with the same period of 2017.

The support centers were piloted in the Englewood and Harrison districts in February 2017. Thirteen of the city’s 22 police districts are to have them by the end of the year.

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson speaks about a $10 million donation from Chicago billionaire Ken Griffin to reduce gun violence in the city, during a press conference at the Chicago Police Department’s 25th District station, Wednesday morning, April 12

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson speaks about a $10 million donation from Chicago billionaire Ken Griffin to reduce gun violence in the city, during a press conference at the Chicago Police Department’s 25th District station, Wednesday morning, April 12, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Police Supt. Eddie Johnson has said the centers have reduced officers’ response times to shootings by more than five minutes.

In the late 1980s, when Johnson was a patrol officer, he said he would get a call about shots being fired, but tracking down the shooter was very difficult. Within first half hour after the Englewood support center opened last year, Johnson said analysts pinpointed where shots were fired, and officers were able to arrest a shooter.

“We have been living hand-to-mouth to keep this going,” said Roseanna Ander, executive director of the 10-year-old U. of C. crime lab, which has been involved in everything from helping police launch a West Side drug-diversion program to supporting a nationally recognized mentoring program called Becoming a Man. “I’m very excited about this.”

Ander said the support centers have been expanding their footprint in some districts by exploring new responses to domestic violence and working on ways for officers to engage positively with community residents.

The $10 million grant from Griffin will underwrite the collaboration of the police department and the U. of C. Crime Lab through 2019, with some of the money to go to an “innovation fund.”

The money also will help improve services for officers, including training, stress management and mental health treatment, according to the mayor.

“I am excited about the early intervention technology to identify trends with officers and get them the help they need,” Emanuel said.

He said that will go toward satisfying recommendations from the Justice Department after a report last year found Chicago cops were engaging in a pattern of civil rights violations.

When the number of homicides in Chicago rose sharply in 2016, private donations streamed into social service agencies with anti-crime programs. But philanthropic support for the police department is unusual.

“The extraordinary new investment by Ken Griffin helps fill in an important piece of the overall strategy,” Ander said.

Griffin gave more than $33.6 million to Illinois campaigns in the last two years, with roughly two-thirds of that going to Rauner, according to a Sun-Times analysis.

“This isn’t about politics,” Johnson said. “It’s about public safety. All of us recognize that, at the end of the day, we have a vested interest in making the city and state safer. [Griffin] has done his research to see what was working and what was integral in reducing gun violence in the city of Chicago.”

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