Last week, in the wake of the controversial, high-profile police deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, Congress passed a new law that would create a federal record of deaths that occur in police custody.
The Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013, according to Mother Jones, “mandates that states receiving federal criminal justice assistance grants report, by gender and race, all deaths that occur in law enforcement custody, including any while a person is being detained or arrested.”
In addition to requiring the reporting of all police custody deaths, the bill also states that federal agencies “annually gather and report these deaths to the U.S. attorney general, who in turn has two years to analyze the data, determine if and how it can be used to reduce the number of such deaths, and file a report to Congress.” The bill, which is being backed by the NAACP, is currently waiting to be signed by President Obama.
Although the FBI has something similar in place, known as the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, it only includes cases that are considered to be “justifiable” deaths by law enforcement officers. The new bill would require that a record be kept for police-involved deaths, which the NAACP believes will “increase accountability and transparency.”
As Mother Jones points out, there have been attempts in the past to enforce similar laws with very little success. Earlier versions of the Death In Custody Reporting Act were found to be inaccurate and incomplete in their collection of data, due often to failure to comply with the guidelines. The new bill, however, says that if states do not fully and accurately report all deaths that happen in police custody they could lose up to 10% of their federal funding.
“Hopefully there will be better compliance and enforcement than existed then, and also more cooperation,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal said in an interview with Mother Jones. “There's certainly more awareness now about the importance of this data, and much more focus on it.”