Criminal justice agencies often seek technological solutions to address safety issues and improve efficiency. What is the best way to inform public safety technology (PST) investments? Is cost-benefit analysis (CBA) a useful tool? The Vera Institute of Justice’s Cost-Benefit Knowledge Bank for Criminal Justice (CBKB) brought together a group of policymakers and practitioners to discuss the role of CBA in decisions about PSTs.
New public safety technologies (PSTs) have the potential to make law enforcement more effective, whether it is an automated reporting system, protective gear for officers, a crime analysis program, or body cameras to record interactions between police and civilians. But these technologies are constantly evolving and each year brings a new set of options for decision makers.
Last week the Vera Institute of Justice’s Center on Youth Justice published the report Coming of Age with Stop and Frisk: Experiences, Self-Perceptions, and Public Safety Implications. The report found that among roughly 500 young people surveyed in highly patrolled, high-crime areas of New York City, “trust in law enforcement and willingness to cooperate with police is alarmingly low.”
Such findings serve as a reminder that some benefits and costs are not easily monetized, such as the benefit of a community’s improved trust in the police department or the cost of that trust being compromised.
In early October, CBKB convened a roundtable of criminal justice experts to discuss ways of improving the choices public safety agencies make about technology. During the meeting, members of the group cataloged some of the factors influencing these decisions, a list that, regrettably, included lobbying, hunches, and the urgent need to spend unused grant money.
Earlier this month, CBKB convened a group of experts on law enforcement and technology to talk about the use of cost-benefit analysis (CBA) in making decisions about public safety technology. The roundtable covered a lot of ground; you can read about the discussion in greater detail in an upcoming CBKB publication.
The National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC) has developed a Technology Decision Tool to help agencies make safe and sound acquisitions. “We have a goal of insuring that the law enforcement mission should drive the use of technology, as opposed to the technology driving the mission. The Technology Decision Tool is designed to assist an agency in making sure that happens!” says Michael K.
This month on the blog we’re focusing on public safety technology and the use of cost-benefit analysis (CBA) in making policy and program decisions. Technology plays an ever-increasing role in public safety. An array of new tools for detecting and investigating crime, monitoring offenders, and preventing recidivism brings the promise of safer streets, more conclusive proof of innocence or guilt, fewer career criminals, and even taxpayer savings.
A cost-benefit analysis, when done properly, can provide a solid justification for more government spending (or public investment, depending on your point of view). But cost-benefit studies can also address other questions:
In what areas can government reduce or avoid spending? One of the best-known examples is the Washington State Institute for Public Policy’s examination of program and policy options to reduce the future need for prison beds, reduce crime, and save taxpayer dollars, the results of which enabled the state to avoid building a new prison in 2007.