We’re about to get more data from police on deaths in custody (repost)

**I accidentally deleted my original version, and this is a repost.

Back in  September I wrote that we still need more information about police shootings.  I also noted here that in counting police shooting deaths, Border Patrol agents are likely not counted, and it was mentioned in our Twitter conversation that the list likely does not include those who died or were injured in prison.

I wrote

It is important to realize a few things while looking at this list. It is only a partial list, and it is only a list of those killed by police, and does not include any injuries by gun or other weapon. I am also assuming that Border Patrol numbers are not included as “police” in this list. It was also mentioned that the list does not include anyone killed in prisons, again not mentioning injuries in prison either.

Since the increased attention to police brutality after the killing of Mike Brown there have been other stories of people killed in police custody.  On October 17 Democracy Now! went to Denver to cover the elections, and spent a lot of the hour on police brutality cases there as well, including Marvin Booker.

As Denver faces a string of police brutality cases, a federal jury has awarded a historic $4.6 million in damages to the family of a homeless preacher killed while he was in the booking area of the Denver jail. Marvin Booker died after he was grabbed and then piled on by a team of officers who handcuffed him, put him in a chokehold and tasered him. The coroner ruled his death a homicide, but prosecutors declined to charge the deputies involved, and Denver Sheriff Department officials never disciplined them, saying Booker could have harmed someone and that force was needed to restrain him. The case highlights a history of alleged misconduct by the police department, and has added momentum to calls for reform both locally and nationwide in the aftermath of calls for justice in the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by an officer in Ferguson.

Democracy Now! also discussed other cases of police brutality in Colorado, including Isaiah Moreno, a man who was tasered by two officers while he is sitting down not doing anything, and then after he is tasered they tie him to a restraining chair and leave him there, and Anthony Waller, who ironically with the name “Waller” was slammed into a wall in court in front of a judge while shackled, again without provocation.

That same week Cassandra Rules wrote about the death of Christopher Lopez in prison, with a disturbing video that shows the callousness of the officers.

In the 47 minute long video, the prison guards laugh, joke, and mock this helpless and shackled schizophrenic man as he dies alone on the floor in front of them.


Three employees have been fired, and five others disciplined. No criminal charges were filed.

If Fyodor Dostoyevsky was correct in stating that you can judge a society by how well it treats its prisoners, this video is a very horrific display of what our society has become. We can do better.

Then there are the “shot himself in the head while handcuffed behind his back” stories as well.  In the case of Chavis Carter, an autopsy showed drugs in his system, and police reenacted what they say happened.

(still photo from police re-enactment video)

The report said Carter’s death was ruled a suicide based on autopsy findings and investigative conclusions from the Jonesboro Police Department, which has faced questions from Carter’s family and community members about the circumstances surrounding the July 28 shooting.

He was cuffed and placed into a police car, where apparently he produced a weapon, and despite being handcuffed, shot himself in the head,’ the report said.

Besides the case of Chavis Carter there is also Jesus Huerta and Victor White III.

I am reporting on some of the 61 bills Obama signed into law in 2 days (Dec 18 and 19th) at the end of the year, one of which was H.R. 1447, the “Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013,” which according to the press release

requires States and Federal law enforcement agencies to report information to the Department of Justice on the deaths of individuals in the custody of law enforcement.

**(While this blog post discusses a new law requiring more transparency from DHS, Obama also signed S. 2651, the “DHS OIG Mandates Revision Act of 2014,” which eliminates three separate reporting requirements of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General) more on this bill later)**

The bill reinstates a reporting requirement that sunsetted in 2006, but as Mother Jones reports, previous bills have had little impact in providing data in the past

if past measures to collect similar data are any indication, it’s going to be a long time before Washington reliably keeps a comprehensive database of all citizens who die at the hands of the police. Congress has tried to enact similar laws before: In 1994, a statute passed under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act mandated that the Department of Justice annually gather, report, and publish a summary of public data counting uses of “excessive” force, but nothing much came of the plan. At some point the task of collecting data fell to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, a professional organization. They maintained a database until 2001, but have not updated it since. Twenty years later, we have no clear understanding of how many people have been killed by police.

Older versions of the Death in Custody Reporting Act have also struggled to compel comprehensive data. The bill passed last week is the reauthorization of the original act, passed in 2000. Initially created in reaction to prison confinement deaths—lawmakers inserted a provision requiring tallies of arrest-related deaths in 2003—that first version accomplished little: Several years passed before states started sending in data, and the bill expired shortly thereafter, in 2006, without a single report having been released. Since then, the provision requiring state counts of arrest-related deaths has stayed on the books—but reporting has never been enforced. Many local law enforcement agencies provide incomplete data, and the Justice Department has published no comprehensive reports in more than a decade.

The bill that passed last week aims to force reporting by tying law enforcement funding to cooperation: States that fail to report police-involved killings can lose up to 10 percent of their federal law enforcement grants. However, it’s up to the attorney general to mete out fines. “Hopefully there will be better compliance and enforcement than existed then, and also more cooperation,” Blumenthal says.

There is some good news though, and that is that even when the law requiring reporting data expired, collection continued as we learn from a 2011 report evaluating data reported to the DOJ from 2003-2009 see on page 15, although I don’t think that the new law requires retroactive release of this data, and I wonder where data collected in the past is.

Since the expiration of the DICRA legislation in 2006, BJS has continued to collect ARD data, but no longer requires quarterly submissions.

Even in light of the criticism from Mother Jones of what is missing from the data, the analysis from 2011 is still staggering, as the press release outlines.

From 2003 to 2009, a reported 4,813 persons died during or shortly after law enforcement personnel attempted to arrest or restrain them, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today.

The 1,187 state and local law enforcement agencies employing 100 or more full-time sworn personnel accounted for 64 percent of full-time sworn personnel (490,269) and represented seven percent of all such agencies nationwide in 2008. These agencies accounted for 75 percent (3,613) of all reported arrest-related deaths.

Page 2 tells us that the 1,187 agencies that employ 100 or more full-time sworn personnel are 7% of the total.

While I agree with Mother Jones’ article that past laws have not produced comprehensive databases, I am glad that we have a new law requiring data to be reported once again.

As the country with the highest per capita prison population, with more than 2.2 million people in jail as of 2013 and more than 6.8 million under some form of “adult correctional systems” such as parole or probation, until the prison abolition movement catches on with greater popularity, any law that requires reporting of data is better than relying on journalists who have to look and search and hope to find out what is happening.

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2 Responses to We’re about to get more data from police on deaths in custody (repost)

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