The research website on security-related fields rand.org has published a study prepared by a group of researchers who have conducted research with the goal of decreasing the number of deaths occurring in U.S. law enforcement custody.
The group of U.S. researchers – Duren Banks, Michael G. Planty, Madison Fann, Lynn Langton, Dulani Woods, Michael J. D. Vermeer, and Brian A. Jackson – approached the research with a willingness to identify high-priority needs for the U.S. criminal justice system, starting with some important questions:
- What are the different definitions and metrics of deaths occurring in law enforcement custody?
- What barriers or facilitators affect the communication of this information at the state or national level?
- What information about deaths taking place in police custody is crucial for supporting policies and practices that aim to reduce these deaths?
In 2013, the U.S. Congress enacted the Death in Custody Reporting Act (DCRA) to tackle the lack of reliable information on law enforcement-related deaths in correctional facilities.
The U.S. Department of Justice has undertaken several activities designed to respond to the provisions specified in the DCRA legislation, as well as its own federal mandates, for a comprehensive understanding of the prevalence and characteristics of deaths taking place in police custody. In spite of these efforts, at present no national data collection program represents all deaths occurring in law enforcement custody. These data are fundamental for supporting strategies to bring down the number of these deaths: promoting public safety through suitable responses to reported crimes, calls for service and police-community encounters, and building trust with communities.
To gain a better understanding of the needs on developing and leveraging data from a collection of national figures on law enforcement-related deaths, the researchers felt that limiting the scope of data collection to fatal incidents would be insufficient to understand and reduce deaths in law enforcement custody.
Among the recommendations of the study’s authors are:
- Specify national standards for a more inclusive collection that encapsulates all critical incidents (fatal incidents and all those in which police use lethal force), regardless of whether the incident results in a death.
- Support more trustworthy and comprehensive reporting in existing systems that depend on law enforcement participation by allocating resources to data providers, leveraging information previously collected by these agencies, and otherwise incentivizing participation.
- Work with the research community, law enforcement and other relevant stakeholders to build appropriate indicators and toolkits and spread information on the appropriate and responsible use of these data.
- Create a taxonomy of deaths or critical incidents taking place in the custody of law enforcement to provide the context necessary to understand the role of law enforcement.