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"That's not my thing, but we did it," he said.

Public safety is more up his alley.


The foundation has made more than 65 grants to law enforcement agencies in Macon County since 2000. They have paid for vehicles, K-9 units, armored vests, body cameras, stun guns, handcuffs, firearms and other equipment. Last year, the foundation gave $14.2 million for a new training facility the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board will run, and it committed an additional $2.4 million for the building this year.

There have been multiple grants to the sheriff's office and Police Department for a program meant to stop drugs from coming into Macon County. There was $1.5 million in 2015 for a drug intervention program, and in 2016, the foundation bought overdose-reversing drug Narcan for the sheriff's office.

Buffett also serves as an auxiliary deputy sheriff and undersheriff in the Macon County sheriff's office. Both positions are unpaid.

"Howard's that person that digs the hole. He's very much a doer," Sheriff Thomas Schneider said. "It was Howard's idea to put this (intervention) program together."

Drive out of town a few miles, past the state training facility that's still under construction, and turn right between a couple of cornfields. Deeper into the fields is an old farmhouse flanked by shiny new buildings that resemble barns and a yard packed tight with vehicles.

The foundation paid $3 million in 2013 for the land, buildings, training equipment and more at the facility. Federal, state, county and municipal officers all train at Grant Farm. State K-9 dogs and officers are certified there. The bullet-riddled interior of the farmhouse is used for training exercises. The vehicles are for mock drug busts, and inside the barns are a robotic target and scenario-based training technology.

The billionaire's son knows his way around firearms.

On a recent visit, a shooting instructor fired up the 300-degree scenario simulator, but there was a glitch. It wasn't registering the Glock pistol Buffett was using, so he grabbed an AR-15 rifle. "This is what many people refer to as an assault weapon," he said, stepping into the simulator.

The screens lit up and the scenario began. It was a school shooting, and Buffett took the lead after his simulated partner went down.

Police officers have to learn to be better, Schneider said. Better officers mean a safer community, and the resources Buffett provides facilitate that.

"Do you want to raise your children in an area you know is safer? Absolutely, we all do," Schneider said. "I don't consider that a luxury."

While Buffett is generous with the money, he requires accountability for the foundation's contributions. "I want to know what the results are," he said.

The contributions are wide-reaching. They are paying for a planned extension of the kid-sized train at the zoo, a new engine for that train and the construction of a planned amphitheater along the shore of Lake Decatur. They funded a science program at Decatur Public Schools for 12 years.

Though that program ended, it rallied other sponsors for programs in science, technology, engineering and math, such as ADM, Caterpillar and agribusiness Tate & Lyle.

And in a district where about three-quarters of students come from families in poverty, every bit helps, said Zach Shields, executive director of the Decatur Public Schools Foundation.

Christian, who swore she'd never move back to Decatur, moved back in 2008 to get married and start a family. The move was a reluctant one. With family in the area, she had grown up hearing horror stories about Decatur. "Don't get an apartment there," her grandparents would say. "It's scary."

A perception soured by an increase in gang violence in the 1990s lingered, though the violence itself tapered. When Christian saw a commercial listing updated crime statistics, she grabbed her digital video recorder remote and watched it again. "I'm scientific; I liked the facts. And even I'm like, 'Is that legit?'" she said.

The commercial was part of a marketing and branding program funded by a $1 million grant from Buffett's foundation. It flipped a switch for Christian, making her realize that reality wasn't matching her perception of the city.

Decatur's murder rate has dropped 90 percent in the past two decades, according to FBI data. The assault and battery rate has dropped 50 percent.

The story that was being told about Decatur was no longer accurate, said Nicole Bateman, community marketing manager. The Limitless Decatur and Macon County marketing initiative, launched in May 2015, aims to fix that.

"You cannot market without money, plain and simple," said Bateman, whose position is funded by the foundation's contribution.

Community marketing surveys taken before the program's launch and late last year show the needle is moving. For example, there was a 29 percent change in perception among residents that Decatur and Macon County is a place that offers job opportunities.

Additionally, participants listed crime rates in the first survey as a top factor when considering moving away. After the "Safe Streets. Strong Community" campaign — which included the commercial Christian saw — launched in 2016, people correctly ranked Decatur and the surrounding cities based on crime rates.

To be sure, city officials say more needs to be done to keep Decatur on the road to recovery. The foundation picks up some slack where federal and state funding falls through, but it can't do it alone.

Even Christian, who loves living in Macon County, acknowledges the area has shortcomings.

But as far as raising her son? There's no question that Macon County is the place, she said, as she watched him in front of the stage at Chill on the Hill. Onstage, the band covered "May We All," popularized by country duo Florida Georgia Line.

"May we all get to grow up in our red, white and blue little town," the lead singer crooned. "Kinda place you can't wait to leave but nobody does, 'cause you miss it too much."

Like Christian, Buffett never thought he'd be so invested in Decatur.

But he doesn't plan to stay forever. "Real home to me is Omaha, Neb.," he said. If and when he does leave, the foundation will stay — Decatur has been good for it.

"One of the things I'm always concerned with is just being able to take care of business, and that always means not getting distracted with a lot of unnecessary things," he said. "So I will say Decatur has been great."


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Source : http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-howard-buffett-decatur-philanthropy-0716-biz-20170713-story.html

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