Today, OpenTheGovernment.org submitted comments — endorsed by civil rights, human rights, immigrant rights, privacy and transparency organizations — to the Department of Justice about the proposed implementation of the Deaths In Custody Reporting Act (DICRA). The comments express concern that the DOJ proposal departs from the provisions of law in the DICRA requiring states receiving federal funding to proactively report information to the federal government regarding the death of any person in custody – i.e., detained, under arrest, in the process of being arrested, or incarcerated.
The comments highlight the passage of two years since the enactment of the DICRA and emphasize that the guidance on its implementation is long overdue and fails to meet the requirements of the statute. The law requires that police departments be responsible for documenting and proactively reporting all cases of arrest-related deaths: the proposed guidance shifts the burden to the DOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). The BJS is called upon to compile lists of potentially relevant deaths ‒ based on publicly-available information, which, as the comments note, is an inadequate method of collecting data to determine the circumstances under which people die while in law-enforcement custody. While media outlets such as the Guardian and the Washington Post have been critical to understanding police-civilian encounters over recent years, reliance on media accounts and statistics is not what the statute requires.
The comments also emphasizes the essential need for greater transparency, strongly urging that the DOJ guidance include clear instructions and timelines for making information regularly available to the public. The comments recommend that the proposed DOJ rule expand on the requirements of the statute (to report information to the Attorney General on Arrest-Related-Deaths cases on a quarterly basis), and instruct law enforcement agencies to also contemporaneously make public the results of the these reports in order to ensure for greater oversight and accountability. Without timely, reliable, and publicly-accessible data, it is impossible to identify those states failing to report, or not reporting correctly.
Read the comments here.