The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a new program that seeks to document all “arrest-related deaths.” The DOJ indicated it will be using media reports and other sources to confirm fatal cases rather than waiting for police departments to report them voluntarily.
Key items to note in the new program are:
- The methodology of the new system aims to replace a count by the FBI, which has largely been discredited. DOJ officials have said, “Their new program should increase transparency around the use of force by police and improve accountability for the actions of individual officers.”
- The new system will be administered by the department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). It would document deaths caused by physical force, Taser shocks and some vehicle crashes caused by law enforcement in addition to fatal shootings by officers.
- All police departments will be asked later this year to report once for all arrest-related deaths during 2016, before moving to the quarterly reporting process in 2017.
- All police departments will be sent a form by the BJS that requires information on the department’s arrest-related deaths in the past quarter of the year. Deaths that were already noticed in media reports will be listed by the BJS for confirmation or correction by the local departments. Space will be included for the local department to list additional deaths that were not previously noticed. Departments that have seen no arrest-related deaths that quarter will be asked to return “an affirmative zero” saying so.
- A second form seeking extensive information about the circumstances of each death will be sent to the local department responsible. It will require local officials to detail data such as demographic information on every person killed, how the deadly encounter began and whether the person was armed.
- Other forms will be sent to the 685 medical examiner’s and coroner’s offices asking them to also confirm details of deaths that have been noticed in public sources. They, too, will be asked to return forms with details of any other deaths that went unnoticed.
The DOJ is encouraging the police departments, medical examiner’s and coroner’s offices to provide comments (which will be accepted until October 3, 2016) on the following points of the program:
- Evaluate whether the proposed collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, including whether the information will have practical utility.
- Evaluate the accuracy of the agency's estimate of the burden of the proposed collection of information, including the validity of the methodology and assumptions used.
- Evaluate whether, and if so how, the quality, utility and clarity of the information to be collected can be enhanced.
- Minimize the burden of the collection of information on those who are to respond, including through the use of appropriate automated, electronic, mechanical or other technological collection techniques or other forms of information technology (e.g., permitting electronic submission of responses).
More information on the collection of comments is available in the Federal Register.
DOJ is using its authority under the death in Custody Reporting Act – a law that states local police departments must report all deaths in custody to the DOJ or lose 10 percent of their federal funding. The law has been largely ignored since being reauthorized in December 2014.