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Cost-benefit analysis in criminal justice

We have all implemented this process.  We decide we need a new car, truck, lawn mower, computer- whatever is on your wish list. Next, we spend time on the computer and in the stores to see what specs we want to have included in the item we need to purchase.  Then we select the right one and the right price.  Selecting the least expensive one is not the priority. It is satisfaction that the one we select will fit our need that, my friends is cost-benefit analysis in a nut shell.

Whenever I begin the discussion of this practice in my grant writing classes, I hear groans, growls and sighs. Most think the process is difficult. Many think it is unnecessary. However, cost-benefit analysis is at the core of strategic thinking and planning.  The purchase of essential tools, technology and resources to utilize in an effective and efficient police department must be examined by the process.  This is certainly true for all tools technology and resources for a law enforcement organization. Funders are search for grantees that have a strong strategic planning process including cost-benefit analysis. 

The Bureau of Justice Assistance/US Department of Justice has just announced a partnership with VERA Institute of Justice. This partnership has launched the Criminal Justice Knowledge Bank. This website offers all organizations in Criminal Justice the tools and resources needed to become proficient in the process of cost-benefit analysis.

The first step in this process is to determine what are your cost-benefit analysis needs? Are you seeking grant funding for the purchase of equipment, tools, technology or vehicles of any kind? Are you planning to begin a new initiative or policing strategic to address a specific community response need? These purchases demand that you process the purchase carefully. Planning and research are the keys to beginning the process for any new investment in your organization.

There are several types of CBA to use on your financial planning processes cost analysis, fiscal impact analysis, cost effectiveness analysis and cost-benefit analysis. The toolkit will walk you through each approach. A complete cost-analysis process will include areas such as direct costs, indirect costs, start-up expenditures and one-time costs as well as future and capital costs.  

The Vera Institute defines the CBA basic process steps are as follows:
    Determine whether CBA is the appropriate tool
•    Assess the impact of the initiative
    Measure the cost of the initiative
    Compare costs and benefits
    Develop a report of your findings


The toolkit offered by the CBKB offer valuable resources for making sound, wise decision for the police department. This process will ensure the funder that your capacity to develop a new initiative or make a grant funded request has been carefully researched and measured. This will also assure the funder that your department is requesting a NEED rather than a WANT. So many grant applications fall short in this area.  It is easy to “use your gut instinct” to develop a list of wants. The funders require a sound scientifically proven method to determine your NEED.  

The CBKB offers a toolkit, reference database, a collection of online resources, and training and education through podcast, presentation and webinar collections for your perusal. This process may seem daunting at first but it truly turns your fiscal plan into a strong and vibrant resource for sustainability.  

From the perspective of grant funding, cost-benefit analysis is a key step in creating a competitive grant application to any funding agency, federal, state or private.  The more scarce our resources become the greater the need is for careful strategic planning and full economic analysis of the organization. Those with the organization who takes the time to build the key management capacity will be the one to get the funding.

If you need help with this process beyond the Vera Institute and the Cost-Benefit Analysis Knowledge Base, contact your local college or university for help. The have many professionals who can offer support for your organization.  

This process will also support your budget request process. The organization that has completed CBA will have a strong case statement and sound justification for funding in both the budget request and funding request.  

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