Applying CBA to Public Safety


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 many of these procedures 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 these 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 analyzing policing by identifying and weighing 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. To that aim, we’re partnering with communities across the country – and holding convenings here in New York—to re-imagine public safety by understanding what works and what doesn’t.

Our current and past CBA projects include:

ShotSpotter (St. Louis County, Missouri)

Gunshot detection systems—often referred to by the proprietary name “ShotSpotter”—use sensors, placed strategically throughout a community, to pinpoint the location of gunfire in the hopes of reducing gun violence. The Policing Project is partnering with the St. Louis County Police Department and Economist Jillian Carr from Purdue to assess the benefits of ShotSpotter at reducing gun violence and the costs of the technology.

Vehicle Pursuits (Roanoke City and County, Virginia)

Police vehicle pursuits often increase the likelihood of apprehending a suspect, but they also put both officers and civilians at serious risk of injury or death, and can result in damage to both government and private property. The Policing Project is partnering with Roanoke (City) Police Department, the Roanoke County Police Department, and Economist Emily Owens at the University of California at Irvine to assess the costs and benefits of adopting a more restrictive vehicle pursuit policy.

De-escalation Training (Asheville, North Carolina)

A number of police agencies have recently changed their use of force policies to require or encourage officers to take steps to de-escalate potentially violent encounters prior to using force. The Policing Project has partnered with the Asheville Police Department, Economist Emily Owens at UCI, and Criminologist Rebecca Neusteter at the Vera Institute, to assess the effects of Asheville’s 2017 implementation of de-escalation training on use of force, arrests, and community complaints.

Police Militarization

Equipment obtained through the federal government military surplus 1033 program often is put to uses critical to the safety of police officers and the public; however, the acquisition and use of this equipment may reflect a more ‘militarized’ appearance of the local police. Along with partners at Emory University and The National Police Foundation, The Policing Project is conducting site visits to the Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, Houston Police Department, Gilbert Police Department (AZ), and Mesa Police Department (AZ) to better understand how agencies use equipment obtained from the federal government and the costs and benefits of this equipment.

The Benefits and Costs of Policing: Our Convening in New York

What role do we want police to play in a democratic society? Is policing just about crime reduction, or is public safety about something more? To explore these questions and more, we gathered a diverse group of stakeholders for "The Benefits and Costs of Policing," a public convening to demonstrate how CBA can be applied to a wide-range of policing practices, from new police technologies to enforcement tactics like traffic and pedestrian stops.