The Death in Custody Reporting Act (DICRA), approved by Congress in 2013, requires states to provide quarterly reports on individuals who die while in the custody of law enforcement agencies. This regulation has gone largely unenforced with only 1% of the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States in compliance this regulation in 2014.
In an effort to remedy these gaps, the Department of Justice (DOJ) submitted a proposal for more comprehensive and accurate data collection that would shift some of the reporting responsibilities from state and local law enforcement agencies to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, as well as relying on publicly available data that may be found in media coverage and standardizing data collection forms.
The proposal left much to be desired in regard to law enforcement accountability. In response, a coalition of 67 civil rights groups have signed a letter urging the DOJ to put penalties in place for police departments that are not accurately reporting deaths that occur while suspects are in police custody. Among their request, the coalition is calling for a clearer definition of what is considered “in custody” along with a push for federal police funding to be contingent on adequate reporting of data.
According to the group, the DICRA relies too heavily on media reports for data. The death of Eric Garner, is one of many examples of incidents that have gone unreported under the proposal as it stands today. In a statement released on Tuesday, Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said, “Relying on news coverage for the data reporting work of departments is especially problematic. Newsrooms are shrinking across the country and – now more than ever— it’s the government that should be providing journalists with transparent data, not the other way around.”
Henderson went on to say, “The loopholes in these regulations are cavernous. 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. There should be simple procedures so that police can provide complete and accurate data or face clear consequences for non-compliance.”
The DOJ did not specifically outline punishment for U.S. law enforcement agencies that fail to comply with DICRA regulations.