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Feds' Proposal on Tracking Deaths in Custody Shows Lack of Desire to Change 'Status Quo in Policing'

 DOJ proposal includes shifting reporting requirement from state to federal authorities, and rights groups say that's a mistake

 

"We have reached a state of crisis with our police-community relations, and solutions can only come once we have solid data," said ACLU's Kanya Bennett. (Photo: Alisdare Hickson/flickr/cc)

It may seem that the simplest way to gather accurate information about deaths in police custody is for the police departments themselves to collect the data.

But that's not the how the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) proposes to implement the Deaths in Custody Reporting Act (DICRA), signed into law in 2014, and that's a real problem, according to scores of organizations.

In a letter sent Monday to the DOJ, 96 groups including the ACLU, Amnesty International USA, Government Accountability Project, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights outline what they see as major flaws in the proposal.

Among them: it wrongly shifts the reporting requirement from state to federal authorities. That authority, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, will rely on an "inadequate method"—the Arrest-Related Deaths Program, which uses publicly available information. That means that investigative projects undertaken by theGuardian and theWashington Post are the "best national sources" for the data, but that puts the key data on lives lost at the risk of potentially dwindling national interest and media resources.

Further problematic, the groups write, is that the proposal fails to fully clarify what is meant by "custody," and the fact that data is also needed in confrontations with the police in community encounters such as traffic stops.

The proposal also fails to mention "penalties for noncompliance," but that is "critical for successful implementation of DICRA as voluntary reporting programs on police-community encounters have failed," the letter states. Citing reporting by the Guardian and Washington Post, it continues: "Reportedly, only 224 of the more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies reported approximately 444 fatal police shootings to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2014, though we have reason to believe that annual numbers of peopled killed by police exceed 1,000."

According to Kanya Bennett, ACLU legislative counsel, "We have reached a state of crisis with our police-community relations, and solutions can only come once we have solid data."

“When the Department of Justice disregards DICRA so that states do not have to be the primary entity collecting and reporting data, the federal government sends the message that it is not serious about changing the status quo in policing. These circumstances are likely to create future situations like we saw in Ferguson and other cities, unless the federal government provides real oversight and accountability of the state and local law enforcement that it provides millions of dollars to annually," she said.

Many of the same groups behind this letter wrote to the DOJ in August to express concern over the proposal.

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said at the time, "You can't fix what you can't measure. Police departments should report deaths in custody when they happen; it should be that simple. But these regulations make it clear that DOJ would rather bend over backwards to accommodate police departments' dysfunction or reluctance."

Monday is the last day for the comment period on the DOJ proposal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"I'm just trying to make a way out of no way, for my people" -Modejeska Monteith Simpkins

 

AFRICAN AMERICA IS AT WAR

THERE IS A RACE WAR ON AFRICAN AMERICA

THERE IS A RACE WAR ON AFRICAN AMERICANS

THERE IS A RACE WAR ON BLACK PEOPLE IN AMERICA

AMERICA'S RACISTS HAVE INFILTRATED AMERICAN POLICE FORCES TO WAGE A RACE WAR AGAINST BLACK PEOPLE IN AMERICA

THE BLACK RACE IS AT WAR

FIRST WORLD WAR:  THE APPROXIMATELY 6,000 YEAR WORLD WAR ON AFRICA AND THE BLACK RACE

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The Feds Will Rely On Media Reports To Help Count In-Custody Deaths. Here’s Why That’s Problematic.

A coalition of civil rights organizations say DOJ has to put pressure on law enforcement agencies to proactively report deaths.

10/03/2016 01:44 pm ET | Updated 7 hours ago
Erika Kyte via Getty Images
 

WASHINGTON ― The Justice Department needs to put pressure on law enforcement agencies to proactively report deaths of individuals as a result of police force or while in law enforcement custody and cannot get a full count by relying on media reports, a coalition of civil rights organizations wrote in a letter on Monday.

Nearly 100 organizations say they are worried that the new proposal by federal officials to count in-custody deaths would fail to capture many killings by police officers, as well as that deaths of individuals in jail or in prison will be incomplete. Under the plan, officials in DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics would review open source information like media reports to identify potential arrest-related deaths and then seek additional information from the law enforcement agency involved.

“It is unacceptable that two years after Ferguson and the enactment of the Death In Custody Reporting Act, the federal government is not properly collecting data on fatal police shootings,” ACLU legislative counsel Kanya Bennett said. “We have reached a state of crisis with our police-community relations, and solutions can only come once we have solid data.”

The Washington Post has been counting police shootings, while The Guardian has been logging all deaths caused by use of force during police encounters. The Huffington Post is seeking to log every jail death that took place over the course of the year after Sandra Bland died on July 13, 2015. (Our reporting thus far has captured over 800 deaths, but the actual number is likely much higher. The last available data published in August 2015 indicates there were at least 967 jail deaths in 2013, a count believed to be more accurate than the federal database of police shootings, which is known to significantly undercount the actual number of deaths.)

But the civil rights organizations behind the letter worry that it will be “difficult for DOJ to get an accurate picture of trends in custodial deaths” unless state and local law enforcement agencies are “held accountable” for reporting data. They worry that the current media focus on policing isn’t going to last forever.

“Certain media outlets have been critical to understanding police-community encounters over the past year, but it is unlikely that national media attention and resources can remain focused on policing indefinitely,” the letter states. “Thus, relying primarily on media accounts and statistics is an inadequate method of collecting data to determine the circumstances under which people die while in law enforcement custody.”

The dozens of organizations that signed the letter also reiterated a demand that DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs require local and state agencies receiving federal grants to report their data. As indicated in the letter, just 444 fatal police encounters were reported to the FBI in 2014, even though the actual number of deaths resulting from police actions is closer to 1,000 per year. 

“The federal government awards close to $4 billion in such grants annually, and every discretionary grant should be conditioned upon providing data,” the letter states. The organizations’ letter also argues that data on sexual misconduct and law enforcement misconduct should be collected and reported. The last data available on police internal affairs investigations is 14 years old, collected in 2002. 

All three of the death databases compiled by The Guardian, The Washington Post and HuffPost largely rely on local news reports that are supplemented by public records requests. Given their public nature, police shootings and use-of-force deaths are more likely to generate news reports than deaths that occur in jail. HuffPost’s jail death database includes many deaths that weren’t reported at the time they occurred. 

“It’s important to realize that many more people die in prisons and jails then are killed by the police, and deaths in prisons and jails are entirely hidden from public view,” David C. Fathi, the director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said in an interview. “Unlike police shootings, there are no cell phone videos and typically no witnesses except for prisoners and prison staff. Right now we know almost nothing about deaths in prisons and jails. Even basic numbers are very hard to come by.” 

 

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