Arrest-Related Deaths in the United States: An Assessment of the Current Measurement

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Student Contributions
May 2011
Andrea Borrego

Though police-involved homicides have generated controversy and caused community disruptions and riots for many years, few efforts to systematically capture and study these events exist. The lack of research on arrest-related deaths (ARDs) is particularly troubling not only because of the consequences of these events, but also because the nature of how these deaths occur may also be changing. In particular, recent attention has shifted away from incidents where police use firearms to incidents where other less-lethal tools are used but death still occurs (e.g., TASERs). In 2000, the Federal Government sought to address this problem through the creation of the Deaths in Custody Reporting Program (DCRP), a national-level voluntary reporting system managed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. There have been few efforts, however, that have assessed the accuracy and completeness of the DCRP data collection. The current study seeks to accomplish this through a comparison of ARDs in the DCRP to open-source, web-based media reports of ARDs in a stratified, random sample of 12 states during 2005. The study finds that all types of ARDs, not just police-involved homicides, are not accurately and reliably reported. Furthermore, the information provided is not reliably reported or interesting to research initiatives.  Improvements in how the data is collected and what type of data is collected are needed. This adds to the scholarly research that advocates for a systematic and reliable national dataset of all deaths that occur in the process of arrest.