Estimates of Law Enforcement Costs by Crime Type for Benefit-Cost Analyses

Published in: Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, Volume 10, Issue 1, pages 95-123 (Spring 2019). doi: 10.1017/bca.2018.19

Posted on RAND.org on April 19, 2019

by Priscillia Hunt, Jessica Saunders, Beau Kilmer

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Crime is an important outcome in many social policy evaluations. Benefits to society from preventing crime are based on avoiding victimization and freeing criminal justice system resources. For the latter, analysts need information about the marginal cost of policing for different types of crime across jurisdictions; however, this information is not readily available. This paper details key economic concepts relevant to law enforcement services, and then combines publicly available police expenditure data with insights from observational and time-diary studies to generate state-level, crime-specific, average variable cost estimates for crime-response services conducted by police by crime type. Since there is considerable uncertainty concerning various parameters underpinning these calculations, we use Monte Carlo simulation methods to incorporate the uncertainty into our estimates. This study finds that the U.S. population-weighted average variable cost of law enforcement response per police-reported Part I violent crime is $10,900, ranging from $6900 to $15,400 at the 10th and 90th percentiles, respectively. For a Part I property crime, the equivalent figure is $1300, with a range from $700 to $1700.

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