Commentary

10.21.16

Government Not Counting Deaths In Police Custody

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Advances in media and technology have brought desperately needed visibility to the pressing issue of police violence. Visibility alone, however, cannot create long-term accountability and transparency in law enforcement. That is why the successful implementation of the Deaths In Custody Reporting Act (DICRA) is crucial. Congress enacted DICRA almost two years ago to hold state and local law enforcement agencies responsible for reporting to the public deaths in police custody.

Unfortunately, the Department of Justice appears to be weakening the Act and, even worse, the law has not yet been implemented.

Data Necessary for Police Reform

It is difficult to fully understand the extent and pervasiveness of deaths that occur while in police custody without all of the relevant information. DICRA helps alleviate this problem by producing concrete data on police-civilian encounters through data collection and reporting. Individual community members and members of the press have helped produce evidence to the frequency and severity of this problem, but this is not a sustainable solution.

Coalition Agrees: Implement DICRA Now!

It is time for the Department of Justice to implement DICRA in a way that requires true accountability. ACLU National and the ACLU of Ohio have mobilized a coalition of over 60 national, state, and local organizations, representing the interests of people of faith, LGBTQ people, criminal justice, civil rights, human rights, immigrants’ rights, and open government, in support of the implementation and strengthening of DICRA. This coalition is asking for the Department of Justice to:

  • Require all local law enforcement agencies report their own data and not rely on media accounts;
  • Mandate reporting for federal law enforcement, including immigration officials;
  • Levy financial penalties for local law enforcement agencies who do not comply with the law;
  • Require state and local law enforcement agencies that receive grants from the DOJ to report and collect data on uses of force as well as other police-community encounters, such as traffic stops.

DICRA Must Be Clear and Accountable

Without a national database of incidents of death while in police custody, it is nearly impossible to create effective solutions to these tragic events. There are too many gaps in knowledge on arrest-related deaths. Direct reporting from states and law enforcement agencies will fill those gaps. We must all be vocal advocates for the implementation of a clear, strong, accountable and enforceable Deaths In Custody Reporting Act if we are serious about police reform.

The Power of Advocacy

The Department of Justice met with advocates last week in response to receiving thousands of our coalition advocacy letters in support of a truly accountable and effective implementation of DICRA. In this meeting, staff at the DOJ acknowledged that their plans for implementing DICRA fell short, agreeing that the issues raised in our letters need significant attention. The DOJ announced that there will be a revised notice on DICRA implementation issued this month or early next. This decision, to bring a revised notice on DICRA implementation, means that our collective advocacy efforts worked.

Additional Voluntary Database Announced

The DOJ also recently announced an FBI database that will collect data on use of force that does not result in fatalities. While the ACLU appreciates that the Department of Justice is trying to collect data on fatal and nonfatal uses of force, we believe that until data collection and reporting is mandatory – with federal funds conditioned upon such collection and reporting – we will have great databases with no data.

 Read the coalition letter to the Department of Justice.

Sign-on partners include:

  • AFL-CIO
  • African American Ministers in Action (AAMIA)
  • American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
  • American Civil Liberties Union
  • Amnesty International USA
  • Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance,
  • AFL-CIO (APALA)
  • Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice
  • Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending
  • Dissent Foundation
  • Californians Aware
  • Call to Do Justice
  • Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good
  • Church of Scientology National Affairs Office
  • Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles
  • Council on American-Islamic Relations
  • DC Reentry Task Force
  • Dignity and Power Now
  • Disciples Justice Action Network
  • Equity Matters, Inc.
  • Equality New Mexico
  • Fitting the Description
  • Florida Legal Services
  • Friends Committee on National Legislation
  • Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights
  • Government Accountability Project
  • Human Rights Defense Center
  • Human Rights Watch
  • Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
  • Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project
  • Immigrant Legal Resource Center
  • Jewish Council For Public Affairs (JCPA)
  • Justice Strategies
  • Kino Border
  • Initiative
  • Lambda Legal
  • LatinoJustice PRLDEF
  • Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
  • The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
  • Metropolitan Community Churches
  • NAACP
  • NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
  • National African American Drug Policy Coalition
  • National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL)
  • National Association of Social Workers (NASW)
  • National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW)
  • National Disability Rights Network (NDRN)
  • National Immigrant Justice Center
  • National Immigration Law Center
  • National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild
  • National LGBTQ Task Force
  • No More Deaths/No Más Muertes
  • OCA –Asian Pacific American Advocates
  • OneAmerica
  • OpenTheGovernment.org
  • Pangea Legal Services
  • Prison Policy Initiative
  • Project South
  • Reformed Church of Highland Park
  • Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES)
  • San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium
  • Society of Professional Journalists
  • South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
  • Southern Border
  • Communities Coalition
  • Southern Poverty Law Center
  • StoptheDrugWar.org
  • Sunlight Foundation
  • T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
  • The United Methodist Church –General Board of Church and Society
  • Wilco Justice Alliance
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