Policing officials and others often point to practices or techniques 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.

One of the best tools for ensuring effective policing is cost-benefit analysis (CBA). CBA is a procedure that attempts to identify and weigh the full range of positive and negative consequences produced by a particular policy or program. It is used frequently across all levels of government (as well as in the private sector). But CBA is not applied broadly to policing—and in particular, there are no models for incorporating policing’s social costs. We would like to see that change.

With the generous support of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, we have taken a significant step toward this change by founding our data and CBA work. Our mission it is to study and improve the application of CBA to policing, and to prepare practitioner-friendly tools that will enable law enforcement agencies and their communities to use CBA in their decisionmaking processes.

With continued support from University donors, we have already begun our work by bringing together leaders in the CBA field, implementing CBAs in jurisdictions across the country, and publishing what we’ve learned.