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The Influence of Scope, Frames, and Extreme Willingness to Pay Responses on Cost of Crime Estimates

NCJ Number
American Journal of Criminal Justice Dated: 2019
Date Published

Since contingent valuation (CV) is a common survey method used to elicit how much the public is willing to pay (WTP) to reduce a particular crime, the current study used one of the first datasets in criminal justice that includes open-ended WTP data gathered from a survey using factorial design and random assignment.


As governments with limited fiscal resources seek to invest in the “best” programs to prevent crime, they often first try to identify the true costs of crime to guide these decisions. In the current study, WTP figures were input into a formula which also considers 1) the number of households and 2) the number of crimes “avoided,” which is calculated based upon the percentage crime reduction presented to survey respondents. Drawing upon data from a representative sample of the United States, the project assessed how sensitive respondents were to crime type, crime reduction percentages, program types, and framing. Results demonstrate that in general, open-ended WTP surveys elicit highly skewed responses and that respondents are more willing to pay for crime reduction programs with a higher number of individual components; however, respondents were not sensitive to crime reductions or several other survey framing techniques. Importantly, due to these highly skewed WTP values and lack of responsivity to crime control percentages, final cost of crime numbers varied widely – potentially altering policy decisions driven by these methods. This article concludes with a discussion of the appropriateness of these methods for accurately estimating the costs of crime. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2019