Bulletin Reports

Arrest-Related Deaths

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) implemented the Arrest-Related Deaths (ARD) program in 2003 to fulfill the data collection requirement of the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2000. ARD captures the number of individuals who died during the process of arrest or while in custody of state or local law enforcement professionals in the United States. This includes deaths due to use of lethal force, justifiable homicides, suicides, accidental deaths, and fatalities caused by intoxication or medical conditions that occurred during interactions with officers.

In 2014, BJS suspended the ARD program because of challenges that resulted in a significant underestimate of the number of annual arrest-related deaths. That year, BJS conducted a study to examine the impact of these challenges and identify ways to improve program coverage, such as relying on multiple methods to identify arrest-related deaths.

Launched in 2015, the redesigned ARD program consists of two phases of data collection methodology. In the first, BJS reviews open information sources, including news outlets and official agency documents, to identify potential arrest-related deaths. In the second phase, BJS surveys law enforcement agencies and medical examiner/coroners’ (ME/C) offices to confirm all arrest-related deaths occurring in their jurisdictions and collect additional data regarding those fatalities.

This hybrid approach addresses two primary obstacles to compiling accurate, reliable information from media sources. First, articles are reduced, coded, and classified through an automated process, which lowers the cost and time needed to review large amounts of data from open sources. Second, the agency survey collects and verifies information from official sources about the decedent and circumstances surrounding the death, which supplements and authenticates the accuracy of open-source data.

Between June 1, 2015, and March 31, 2016, media reviews identified 1,348 potential arrest-related deaths. During this period, the number of deaths consistently ranged from 87 to 156 monthly, with an average of 135 deaths per month. To confirm and collect additional data about the 379 deaths identified from June to August 2015 through open sources, BJS conducted a study of law enforcement agencies and ME/C offices. Findings identified 425 arrest-related deaths during this 3-month period—12 percent more than the number identified. Approximately 1,900 occurred in calendar year 2015. Between June and August 2015, nearly 64 percent of the deaths were homicides, 18 percent suicides, and 11 percent accidents.

Through the redesigned ARD program, BJS continues using a hybrid approach to identify and collect information regarding arrest-related deaths occurring in state and local law enforcement agencies. BJS also plans to implement a survey of federal arrest-related deaths. Additionally, BJS coordinates with the FBI as it develops use-of-force data collection as part of the Uniform Crime Reporting program.

The full report, Arrest-Related Deaths Program Redesign Study, 2015-16: Preliminary Findings, NCJ 250112, is available at www.bjs.gov.