Applying CBA to Public Safety

A fundamental step towards re-imagining public safety is understanding what works and what doesn’t. Today, many policing officials and others continue to rely on practices that have been used for decades—from random patrols to stop-and-frisk—but have not been subjected to rigorous analysis to determine if they are the most effective use of agency resources, or if the public safety benefits of using the techniques are worth the social costs they impose. At the same time, there are many new technologies—from facial recognition to predictive policing—which can be very expensive but are of uncertain value.

At the Policing Project, we believe that one of the best tools for ensuring effective policing is cost-benefit analysis (CBA). CBA is a way of thinking that attempts to identify and weigh the full range of positive and negative consequences from a particular policy or program, including potential social costs (such as racial disparities or loss of community trust). CBA is used frequently across all levels of government, but is rarely applied to policing. As a result, policing’s social costs are rarely considered when deciding how to act. We would like to see that change.

With the generous support of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Policing Project has been working to jumpstart the use of CBA in policing. Learn more by exploring some of our CBA resources below.