CRF Blog

We spend $100 billion on policing. We have no idea what works.

by Bill Hayes

In We spend $100 billion on policing. We have no idea what works. for the Washington Post, law professor Barry Friedman argues that more money should be spent on research into the effectiveness of various police technology and practices.

The truth is, we all want to be safe. The struggle isn’t about outcomes, it’s about methods. Should law enforcement have ready access to everyone’s phone location-tracking data? Should police be required to undergo deescalation training before being authorized to use force?

These aren’t questions to be resolved by free-for-alls on cable news channels. They require facts and analysis. And yet, although the United States shells out well over $100 billion each year for public safety, we have remarkably little idea whether that money is well spent. It’s possible that any given policing tactic or technology — from Tasers to facial-recognition systems to body cameras — is a fine or poor idea. But we really don’t have much sense of which tactics and tools work, or whether they are worth the cost. We don’t know how much money we may be wasting, or whether we are compromising civil liberties, or harming people or property, without good reason.

Throughout the rest of government, we use cost-benefit analysis to answer these sorts of questions. [more]