H.R. 1447 Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013

Congress just passed the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013. You can read the text of the bill here. It’s supposed to get departments to regularly report data on deaths in custody, which is badly needed (it’s shocking how hard it is to get that data).

In a public Facebook post, activist Leroy Moore says:

You know what I am going to say, Where is disability and GBLTQ? “A bill passed by both chambers of Congress and headed to President Barack Obama’s desk will require local law enforcement agencies to report every police shooting and other death at their hands. That data will include each victim’s age, gender and race as well as details about what happened.”

Here’s the key text of the law.

    (a) In General.--For each fiscal year after the expiration of the 
period specified in subsection (c)(1) in which a State receives funds 
for a program referred to in subsection (c)(2), the State shall report 
to the Attorney General, on a quarterly basis and pursuant to 
guidelines established by the Attorney General, information regarding 
the death of any person who is detained, under arrest, or is in the 
process of being arrested, is en route to be incarcerated, or is 
incarcerated at a municipal or county jail, State prison, State-run 
boot camp prison, boot camp prison that is contracted out by the State, 
any State or local contract facility, or other local or State 
correctional facility (including any juvenile facility).
    (b) Information Required.--The report required by this section 
shall contain information that, at a minimum, includes--
        (1) the name, gender, race, ethnicity, and age of the deceased;
        (2) the date, time, and location of death;
        (3) the law enforcement agency that detained, arrested, or was 
    in the process of arresting the deceased; and
        (4) a brief description of the circumstances surrounding the  


Notice that  section 2 b) says at a minimum.

If we want to make sure that disability, sexuality, religion, class, and whatever other kinds of data is collected, we need to push the DoJ to require or compile such variables as they come in.

Because we do need that data. I was trying to write a sentence saying the number of people with disabilities killed by police over the last year, or last five years, or whatever. While I know how many cases I have, and I know specific studies in, say, Maine and New Mexico, we just don’t have that data.

And data feeds policy.

And policy feeds change (as does organization, demonstration, direct action, and so much more).

We need the data.

8 Replies to “H.R. 1447 Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013”

  1. The Illinois Model says:

    Let's imagine there is death of a person with a mental illness, while in police custody. Or at least in the midst of being taken into custody. What data will help the prevention of these tragedies?

    First, take PURPOSE of force into account:
    To take person into protective custody?
    To stop active deadly harm against others?
    To stop active deadly harm against self?
    To prevent potential/imminent harm?
    To arrest for crime?

    There is the "Did the person have a diagnosed mental illness?"
    Different than "Did the officer suspect the person had a mental illness?"
    Different than "Could the officer have responded differently if s/he knew/suspected mental illness at play?"

    These two categories of questions start narrowing down the circumstances of force regarding those with mental illness.

    Now take a legitimate bad guy, with a mild/treated/invisible diagnosed mental illness (which did not really play into the violent crime at all). Mental illness? Yes. Did it factor into incident? No.

    We need some sort of reporting on police OIS and In-custody death. But what the documentation looks like is in question. The useful info is different for each purpose and advocacy group. I'd like to hear a complete laundry list of what each group's hypothesis is, then come together WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT WHO UNDERSTANDS THE ISSUES to find the RIGHT INFO to be collected.

    Just some ramblings from a cop who is skeptical of checkbox reporting and data collection and its overall usefulness.


  2. David Perry says:

    Lou – I am also skeptical of checkbox reporting. But if a checkbox leads us to a database of cases that we can inquire more closely and ask just the kinds of questions that you suggest, I'm for it.

    Bad data can be worse then no data, but the lack of data about deaths in custody, I think, can harm police as much as help them. It allows for all kinds of data-less statements to be made in the press.

  3. The Illinois Model says:

    I agree with most of that.

    Let's say the data shows the police shoot at a high percentage of persons with mental illness (which it most likely would). Let's say the data shows the police shoot at a high percentage of black teens (which it most likely would). What does that DATA mean? To me, NOTHING until we establish patterns that develop over time. Even then, what type of data will show that we (cops) are doing the right thing or the wrong thing? NO checkbox data will properly analyze these shootings.

    Example: what has racial traffic stop data collection in Illinois (since 2005? 2006?) shown? NOTHING. The WRONG data was being collected and analyzed against the WRONG data.

    Please, let's continue this dialogue!


  4. David Perry says:

    So basically you're advocating for qualitative assessment of cases, one after another, to establish pattern, rather than bulk quantitative assessment of data?

    As a qualitative analyst myself, this is very much my approach, but tell me if I'm misunderstanding?

  5. The Illinois Model says:

    We need some quantitative data to establish that an incident occurred. But I find it virtually cannot quantify the police service based on some level of lawfulness, accordance to policy, by way of community support, by perceived awfulness.
    How can the issues of police STRATEGY be quantified? You and I have both been advocating changes at the incident strategy tier of decision-making. We have to use some sort of qualifying study without numbers or binary assessment.

  6. Robert Lanchsweerdt says:

    Unless I'm missing something, the bill doesn't make any absolutes about check boxes.

    Yes, there will likely be check-boxes for sex and race (quantitative data).

    However, the bill requires "a brief description of the circumstances surrounding the death" (qualitative data). This portion of the bill is, perhaps, the most important data-set that will explain what precipitated the death.

    Law enforcement agencies must provide the community with full details surrounding a death instead of defaulting to 'brevity.'

    Too often, police agency administrators provide little details because of advice from a prosecutor's office and/or the city legal team.

    It's a deference to legal (criminal and/or civil) strategy over cultivating community trust. This strategy is doing more harm than good.

    The days of 'no comment' and 'trust us' no longer apply to law enforcement. Communities are seeking full disclosure of the events that lead to law enforcement (government) making the ultimate seizure (the taking of life).

    Another important part of the bill is the "at minimum' language. As a law enforcement nation, perhaps through IACP, PERF and/or NOBLE, there should be a convention to discuss what other helpful information, not specifically requested by the bill, the public should know.

    As American law enforcement is committed to defending civil liberty and upholding the Constitution, so too is there a duty to foster (and maybe even say 're-build') community trust.

    Many of the Peelian Principles address the symbiotic relationship between the police and the public.

    Perhaps the most applicable Peelian Principle that speaks to HR 1447 is Principle #2.

    To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.

    HR 1447 may not be perfect, but it's a start. As a Nation, let's build from there. As law enforcement, let's see this bill as an opportunity.

  7. The Illinois Model says:

    It's a start. A slow, start with little traction and a hazy objective without a defined mission.

    The most important information that our *intelligent* public wants will be glossed over (inadvertently in most cases) in some brief description of the event.


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