The Social Costs of Policing

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Nationwide, policymakers and the public are considering how best to address crime. Deeper insights on policing should guide decisions about its funding and role in the provision of public safety. Traditional cost-benefit analyses usually find policing to be “cost-effective,” meaning it creates benefits that exceed its costs. Yet a range of policing activities can result in “social costs” that are not typically considered. As a result of police activity, people can suffer physical and behavioral health problems; lose educational opportunities, jobs, and housing; and withdraw from civic engagement. An emerging body of research illuminates the extent of these social costs, which are borne primarily by Black communities and other overpoliced communities of color. Vera researchers created this report and fact sheet to fill a critical gap in understanding the holistic costs of relying on policing as a primary approach to safety.

Key Takeaway

When measuring the effect that policing has on public safety, we must include the social costs of policing that make communities less healthy and prosperous. These social costs include damage to the health of individuals and communities, suppression of educational achievement, harm to economic security, and reductions in civic participation and community engagement.

Publication Highlights

  • Ignoring the social costs of policing can mislead policymakers about the effectiveness of policing in improving community safety and well-being.

  • Exposure to routine police activities can have an adverse effect on the health of residents in communities.

  • Being arrested—without a subsequent conviction or any continuing criminal legal system involvement—can itself cause economic harm and lead to lower employment prospects.