One of Chicago’s wealthiest people is pitching other CEOs to help him curb violence

Billionaire James Crown is asking CEOs to find jobs for thousands of people in the most dangerous parts of Chicago in an effort to cut the city’s murders to fewer than 400 a year within five years.

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James and Paula Crown in formal wear at an event last year at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

James Crown and his wife, Paula Crown

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James Crown, one of the wealthiest men in Chicago, is aiming to use his national clout in business to try to fight crime in the city. The ambitious goal? To reduce the number of killings in Chicago to fewer than 400 a year within five years.

On Thursday, Crown — whose family was ranked 34th-richest in America by Forbes in 2020, worth an estimated $10.2 billion — is announcing a crime reduction strategy focused on getting jobs for thousands of people in the most dangerous parts of Chicago, providing millions of dollars for civilian violence intervention programs, strengthening law enforcement agencies and investing in low-income communities.

He’s a leader of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, which spent six months doing research and conducting interviews with former Mayor Lori Lightfoot, former Chicago Police Supt. David Brown, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and leaders of dozens of organizations with ties to the criminal justice system.

The exclusive downtown Commercial Club is a who’s who of corporate CEOs and hospital and university leaders.

“Historically, the Civic Committee has not been involved in public safety matters,” Crown, who chairs its public safety task force, said in an interview Wednesday. “I gotta say this with real humility: We’re late to the conversation. We’re late to the understanding of some of these things.”

What motivated the business leaders to try now to take on violence in Chicago?

“You’ve got altruism,” Crown said. “But you’ve also got the enlightened self-interest of: I want to be safe, I want my workers to come to work, I want the tourists to patronize my business, whatever that might be.”

He also pointed to the astronomical cost the public pays for responding to gunshot wounds and treating them. According to a 2019 estimate by the University of Chicago, that cost amounts to about $1.5 million per person who gets shot. Thousands of people a year are shot in Chicago.

In addition to providing more money for violence intervention programs, Commercial Club members are being asked to have their companies help find jobs for “alumni” of those programs in high-crime areas.

To succeed in a job, they’ll need “wraparound services” from community organizations, according to Derek Douglas, who is president of the organization’s Civic Committee. Douglas said more than 10,000 people in Chicago would be candidates for such jobs.

“You’re going to be serving, you know, thousands of people each year,” said Douglas, a former University of Chicago vice president. “So we have a sense of the scale.”

Douglas said the committee’s strategies will have a combined cost amounting to “tens of millions” of dollars, but he wouldn’t give a precise figure. “We resisted the temptation to just declare a shiny number up front,” he said.

Low morale in the Chicago Police Department is one of the things the Civic Committee’s plan aims to address, according to Robert Boik, the group’s vice president for public safety, who formerly was head of the Police Department’s Office of Constitutional Policing, which was tasked with helping the department comply with federally ordered reforms under a 2019 consent decree.

“I can tell you officers are sick and tired of going from trauma to trauma to trauma,” Boik said. “And so they’re looking for solutions just as much as everybody else is. There are a number of avenues to strengthen the Police Department and have constitutional policing and full compliance with the consent decree.”

Crown said the goal is to bring the number of murders in Chicago to under 400 a year over the next five years and below 200 in a decade.

“We came up with those numbers because, adjusted for population, it’s what’s been achieved in Los Angeles and New York,” Crown said.

Chicago’s yearly murder total hasn’t fallen below 400 since 1965, when there were 395 killings. Last year, there were 695 killings and 804 the year before, according to the Police Department.

New York, with a population three times Chicago’s, had 433 murders in 2022.

Crown — who is chairman and chief executive officer of his family’s investment business, Henry Crown & Co., and a director of General Dynamics and JPMorgan Chase & Co. — tipped his hat to Ken Griffin, the billionaire founder of the Citadel investment management company.

In recent years, Griffin donated tens of millions of dollars to fund technology improvements for the Chicago Police Department and launch a training program at the University of Chicago for police leaders across the country. He moved his family and company from Chicago to Florida last year.

“Ken was very thoughtful and very generous about public safety issues,” Crown said. “Ken’s a friend. I’m sorry he’s no longer in Chicago.”

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