The value of crime analysts: Part 2 of a Q&A with BJA visiting fellow Craig Uchida

By , April 3, 2014

Dr. Craig D. Uchida is the president of Justice & Security Strategies, Inc., where he oversees contracts and grants with cities, counties, criminal justice agencies, foundations, and foreign nations. He is also a member of the Law Enforcement Forecasting Group (LEFG), a program of the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA.) Last year, LEFG asked Vera’s Cost-Benefit Knowledge Bank to develop the paper Putting a Value on Crime Analysts: Considerations for Law Enforcement Executives. We spoke with Dr. Uchida recently about crime analysis, cost-benefit analysis, and the new publication. Th140326 Uchidais is the second of two parts; we published Part 1 of the interview on April 1.

The paper indicates that there’s a long way to go before we can use CBA to answer some pressing questions. What needs to happen in the field to make economic analysis more useful to law enforcement?

Just the language of economic analysis needs to be pressed more. I think that cops and executives don’t think about the cost of crime. They don’t ask themselves, “What am I doing when I reduce crime? How can I translate what we do into cost savings?” They’re certainly reducing victimization, but they’re also reducing the costs associated with violent crime and property crime. One of the things I know CBKB did was a publication on advancing the quality of CBA in justice programs. I think both documents should go to police chiefs so they can start taking a look at costs and benefits.

I’ve used this example in terms of the cost of a violent crime: A homicide costs in the range of $3 million to $8 million. And when you think of a homicide costing $8 million to the entire justice system—and police departments are now reducing those homicides dramatically—$8 million is a lot of money! In the study I just did on Newton Division—which is described in the paper—we reduced homicides from 36 to 16 from 2011 to 2012. I told the chief, “If you look at the cost of a homicide in Los Angeles, it’s at least $8 million for all the costs associated with that. And we knocked down 20 homicides in a year and that’s $160 million in avoided costs. We reduced violent crime by 20 percent in Newton too. You save the county, you save the city, you save the victims by doing all these kinds of programs.” 160 million dollars? That’s a big chunk of change. Law enforcement needs to be looking at cost and economic analysis, so that when they go to their city council and say, “Crime is down by 10 percent” or whatever, lay out the benefits and avoided costs for the city. That’s when everyone starts to pay attention to economic analysis.

How can we get more information and evaluations on the role of crime analysts?

Two things: One is getting that whole economic analysis in front of crime analysts as well. The second thing is researchers. They don’t look at CBA that much, even though they do evaluations of different programs. As researchers and evaluators, we don’t take it to the next step and ask, “What are the costs and benefits?” We don’t as a matter of course do cost-benefit analysis or value-added analysis or other economic analysis that would be beneficial to the work we’ve already done. I don’t think it’d be that hard to add these kinds of questions as part of our evaluations, as part of our work. I should do this myself; I’ve thought about it often enough and impressed it upon my statisticians.

With the Crime Intelligence Detail we formed in the LAPD, we knew it was a risk—you’re putting two officers on the detail to work with an analyst and taking them off the street. I would argue to the chief that the risk was worthwhile. The investment was made and here’s what happened and the very positive results we found. Not only that, but I asked one of the [CID] officers I worked with, “How many arrests have you been involved in during the last year or year and a half?” He said probably 60 or 70 arrests. No patrol officer assists in that many arrests in a year, a year and a half. By working with crime analysts and with data, he was able to directly assist patrol officers and detectives with these arrests. When he tells me that kind of anecdote, that’s really valuable, but we haven’t written it up or said anything publicly about it. But it is part of the reality about the investment you make.

What resources would you recommend to people who want to learn more about crime analysis?

This is the second of two parts of the interview. Read Part 1.

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