CBKB Nominated for Innovating Justice Award

Posted on 24 September 2012 by

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This morning I saw that the folks over at the Cost-Benefit Knowledge Bank for Criminal Justice (CBKB) have been nominated for an Innovating Justice Award.

Before I talk about the IJA, let me just mention that the work done by the CBKB is absolutely essential to law enforcement agencies across the United States (they’ve also had visitors to their site from agencies around the world).

The problem CBKB helps solve? It is seriously challenging for a criminal justice organization to run the same kind of basic cost:benefit analysis that is so simple to those in the private sector.

CBKB wants to make it easier.

The reason we feel so strongly that CBKB’s work is essential is that cops, as never before, are being asked to do more with less, to invest in technologies that will bring them out of the 1970s and into the second decade of the 21st century.

In addition to having boatloads of counter-terror duties and responsibilities thrust upon them by the federal and state governments (by agencies and organizations eager to suckle at the teat of DHS largesse), they also have new types of crimes to contend with, vastly increased training schedules, and pressure from vendors to buy! the latest whatsit that will solve all their ills, cure all their issues and be the ever-lovin’ panacea that every chief desires and every vendor’s siren song is tuned to promise.

Now, here’s a news flash: cops? Not so good at business. Not so much skill with the training in management or profit-loss, or balance sheets or return-on-investment calculations. Frankly, it’s just not even remotely been a job requirement.

Sure, administrators have to work within budget contraints, and play the Spreadsheet Shuffle every budget season – but most often, that’s done less around “How much value are we getting from spending $X on Y?” and more around “What’s the lowest possible sum we can spend this year to do Y, which we’re required by law to do, and how can we justify a n% increase over last year?”

That’s a different calculus entirely from, “Last year we spent $X doing Y. This year, we’ve got two proposals for training and three for technology, each of which claims to be able to reduce the cost of doing Y from $X to $M. How do we even start to go about analyzing these proposals?”

If you don’t think that is absolutely essential to police work, brother, you need to recognize that this is not just the future, it’s the present and the past. If you’re starting to do this kind of stuff now, you’re late to the party.

That’s where CBKB comes in. CBKC is a project of the Vera Institute of Justice, and is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. It helps administrators and agencies get their arms around a range of problems. It starts with access to a database of studies on issues of import to LE, courts, corrections and other criminal justice organizations. These studies have topics ranging from the cost-benefit analysis of pursuits, to buying helicopters, to outsourcing services and many more.

Another thing they offer is tools, right on their website, to help you understand the elements that comprise a total cost, and then the elements that comprise the return on investment. By normalizing the way you view money in and money out, you can begin to make apples-to-apples comparisons and come to fiscally rational decisions about whether to deploy, purchase, initiate or wind down a thing or program.

The CBA Toolkit provides studies, webinars and tools to help you do exactly those things with specific reference to your project or initiative. For example,

Does it work? What effect does it have on its intended objective, such as reducing recidivism or improving employment opportunities? If the initiative hasn’t been evaluated yet, has a similar initiative been examined? What does the existing research tell you?

There are instructions for categorizing and measuring costs, an archive of webinars to watch and a fledgling but very useful blog.

Dave and I have long called for exactly this approach. When we float ideas to agencies either as consultants or as officers, we’re often met by the brick wall that comes when administrators don’t have a contextually appropriate understaning of the pros and cons of a given proposal – simply because they can’t do a cost-benefit analysis.

Recently we spoke with an agency we told could, through the use of a technology, remove two full time people from administrative work and put them back on the streets – where they wanted to be – at greater effect and at the same cost.

For law enforcement agencies, this is a very difficult decision to make.

We hope CBKB makes tremendous inroads in helping us make them.

You can view the CBKB nomination and read the details of their work at the nominee description page. You can register, read about other nominees and vote at the main Innovating Justice Forum site.