Coalition comments urge adherence to requirement of Deaths in Custody Reporting Act and greater accountability in DOJ proposed implementation guidance

Today, 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.

Additional resources:

DICRA Coalition Letter to Dept. of Justice (ACLU)

DOJ Proposal Would Outsource Responsibility For Collecting Data on Police Killings to the Internet (BORDC/DDF)

Coalition: DOJ’s proposed implementation of Deaths In Custody Reporting Act does not meet the law’s requirements

Recommendations for the Justice Department’s 2016 Open Government Plan: Enhance data collection and reporting standards for law enforcement

OTG Forum Identifies Opportunities for Engagement on Transparent Policing and Accountable Law Enforcement Advocacy

Death toll from violent cops is a guessing game (USA Today opinion column by OTG Executive Director Patrice McDermott)

Openness advocates and criminal justice groups join call for comprehensive data on police shootings


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