Last month, McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski spoke at a business luncheon about crime and violence and asked a very basic question: “What’s the plan?” His question is especially urgent because Chicago consistently has more shootings than New York and Los Angeles combined.
Last Tuesday at the City Club of Chicago, I tried to answer his question with a three-pronged framework for making Chicago safer and a goal of reducing gun violence by 80% in five years to put us on a par with New York and LA. To get there, in a nutshell, we need violence prevention at scale, more effective policing and a major commitment from the business community.
None of these three things is happening today at needed levels, yet homicides and shootings are down 15% to 20% compared with last year, according to police data. Imagine if we really did all three.
In my remarks, I highlighted the violence prevention work underway in Chicago. We at Chicago CRED provide outreach, life coaching, therapy, education and job training. Some organizations also include a modest paycheck for participants, so they can eat and pay rent. Preliminary research by Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research shows that participants in our program are about 50% less likely to be shot or rearrested.
North Lawndale is the first neighborhood where violence prevention organizations are trying to go to scale. Collectively, we are serving about a third of the estimated 1,250 people at extreme risk in the neighborhood. Our plan is to serve at least half and see if we hit a tipping point that positively affects the entire community.
Correlation is not causation, but so far, things look promising. Shootings and homicides in North Lawndale are down about 50%. Imagine what it would mean for our families and our neighborhoods if the same was true all across Chicago? Our hope is to replicate this approach in 15 communities where more than two-thirds of all shootings and homicides occur.
With our partners across the city, we also have a program called FLIP, which puts hundreds of unarmed men and women who are known and trusted in their communities on about 90 of the most violent blocks in the city during summer evenings and weekends. Research provided by Northwestern University’s Northwestern Neighborhood & Network Initiative shows that when FLIP workers are present, shootings at these hot spots drop to near zero.
To help save lives, FLIP workers intervene in hundreds of active disputes and negotiate dozens of nonaggression agreements among street factions. Our hope is to extend the FLIP program to even more locations year-round.
But violence prevention efforts must operate in tandem with more effective policing, and the Chicago Police Department today is struggling. In most neighborhoods we serve, arrest rates for shootings are around 10%. With 90% of shooters walking around free, the cycle of retaliatory violence continues.
The fact is, Chicago has about twice as many police per capita as Los Angeles, yet our homicide rate is two to three times higher. If more police made us safer, Chicago would be the safest city in America. The real issue is police effectiveness — and to be more effective, they need to build trust with the community and deploy where they can deter the most shootings. According to a University of Chicago Crime Lab analysis, police too often are not where they need to be. That has to change.
The third part of the plan is the private sector. Business leaders may believe they don’t have a role in making Chicago safer, but everyone needs a path into the legal economy, and business must provide the path. Chicago CRED has partnered with about 40 companies to hire alumni from our program. At City Club, I challenged the private sector to hire at least 1,000 graduates of violence prevention programs across the city each year.
I also challenged businesses to invest more in high-crime neighborhoods, citing a few notable examples. Discover opened a call center in Chatham, which will eventually include 1,000 jobs. Pullman is undergoing a major economic revival. Still, private sector investment on the South and West sides is way behind the North Side, and that also must change.
We have been at this work for six years now, and I am more hopeful than I have ever been. The violence prevention community is strong and growing. We are learning every day, we’re transparent about results and we’re holding ourselves accountable.
The business community has never been more focused. The Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago just formed a public safety task forced chaired by a leading philanthropist with an aggressive timeline for shaping its agenda.
The big question is whether CPD can change. It takes leadership, courage and will — the very same qualities that have led thousands of men and women to put down their guns and change their lives. If they can change, we all can.
Arne Duncan is the founder of Chicago CRED and a managing partner with Emerson Collective.
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