The PJ Tatler

Senate Passes House Bill to Require Police Departments Report In-Custody Deaths to DOJ

By unanimous consent in the Senate last night, lawmakers passed a bill to require states to tell the Justice Department how many individuals die in police custody in the process of an arrest.

The Death in Custody Reporting Act, introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott (R-Va.), cleared the House on Dec. 12, 2013, by voice vote more than eight months after its introduction. It had languished in the Senate Judiciary Committee ever since.

Any department receiving federal funds will have to report to the DOJ on a quarterly basis “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).”

“It is clear that the federal government needs to exercise greater oversight of federal, state and local law enforcement personnel to ensure that they are protecting and serving our citizens,” Scott said in a statement. “To aid in that measure, we need data on deaths that occur within our criminal justice system. Without accurate data, it is nearly impossible to identify variables that lead to an unnecessary and unacceptable risk of individuals dying in custody or during an arrest.”

“The passage of the Death in Custody Reporting Act will make this information available, so policymakers will be in a position to enact initiatives that will reduce incidences of avoidable deaths in our criminal justice system,” the congressman continued, giving a hat tip to Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) for getting the bill through the upper chamber before the end of the 113th Congress.

Paul called the bill “an important step in Congress assessing and reforming our criminal justice system.”

“As a result, we will for the first time get a true picture of the extent and circumstances of deaths in the criminal justice system,” he said.

Blumenthal said it’s “clear” in the wake of highly publicized officer-involved deaths that “the federal government needs to exercise greater oversight of federal, state and local law enforcement personnel to ensure that they are protecting and serving our citizens.”

“To aid in that measure, we need data on deaths that occur within our criminal justice system,” the senator said. “Without accurate data, it is nearly impossible to identify variables that lead to an unnecessary and unacceptable risk of individuals dying in custody or during an arrest. The passage of the Death in Custody Reporting Act will make this information available, so policymakers will be in a position to enact initiatives that will reduce incidences of avoidable deaths in our criminal justice system.”

Leahy said “hundreds” of police department deaths are currently “unaccounted for in federal statistics.”

“Too many communities across our country are losing faith in our justice system,” he said. “This bill provides a step towards accountability, and it is my hope that it may ultimately lead to restoring some measure of trust in these communities.”