Monday, November 21, 2011

Texas reports disproportionate number of arrest-related deaths

I was interested to see a new report (pdf) out from the Bureau of Justice Statistics on arrest-related deaths, revealing that 696 Texans died while being arrested from 2003-2009. Here are a few highlights from the summary:
  • A total of 4,813 deaths were reported to the Arrest-Related Deaths program from January 2003 through December 2009.
  • Of reported arrest-related deaths, 61% (2,931) were classified as homicides by law enforcement personnel, 11% (541) were suicides, 11% (525) were due to intoxication, 6% (272) were accidental injuries, and 5% (244) were attributed to natural causes.
  • State and local law enforcement agencies employing 100 or more full-time sworn personnel accounted for 75% of the 4,813 arrest-related deaths reported during 2003-2009.
  • Among reported arrest-related deaths, 42% of persons were white, 32% were black, and 20% were Hispanic.
So Texas accounted for 14.5% of arrest-related deaths, while comprising a little over 8% of the US population. That said, it's not simply that Texas cops are more trigger happy: Just 44% of arrest related deaths in Texas were homicides by police (308) compared to 61% nationally, while suicides and intoxication-related deaths made up a greater proportion than in other states for reasons not articulated in the report.

Last year 39 Texas law-enforcement agencies reported an arrest-related death, a seven-year low down from 53 in 2007.

To be clear, these data are neither comprehensive nor rock-solid due to different methodologies of identifying and reporting arrest-related deaths among the states. Texas' numbers may appear inflated because many states submit incomplete data - three (Georgia, Maryland, and Montana) submitted none at all over the period - while Texas and California both mandate data collection under state law. Also, the report does not include "deaths that occurred in a jail or other long-term holding facility and deaths that occurred in the custody of federal law enforcement officers."


dfisher said...

Before drawing any conclusions based on this Bureau of Justice Statistical review 0f arrest-related deaths, there are a few things you need to know.

For statistics to have meaning there must be a common point from which to build. In this case the common point would be the "Inquest" into Arrest-Related Deaths, for it is here where the death is determined to be a homicide, or other manner of death.

Texas has 254 counties of which 243 are under the Justice of the Peace inquest system and the remaining 11 are using a hybrid medical examiner inquest system. In the 243 JP counties there are on average 4 JPs per county, all acting independently of each other and using different criteria when determining the manner of death. To complicate the statistical numbers even further, almost all the JPs are sending their bodies to counties using the medical examiner system, which is akin to a JP sending the decedents from his county to a JP in another county for an autopsy. This practice violates the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Articles 49 and 49.25.
In the 11 counties using the hybrid medical examiner system, all the medical examiners are doing is performing autopsies, not conducting “Inquest” as required under the TX Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 49.25. The medical examiners in these 11 counties, like the JPs, all use different criteria when determining manner of death.
Now add in to this mess the fact that there isn’t a common definition as to what makes an arrest-related death a homicide, suicide, due to intoxication, due to accidental injuries, or were attributed to natural causes.
So next time someone in Texas wants to look at arrest related death, they need to group the death for like circumstances, not on like manner of death.

DougD said...

To dfisher:

I am a supervisor at a large police department in one of those counties using the medical examiner system. I have been a police officer for over 16 years and have responded to numerous scenes where people had died from both natural causes and unnatural causes. Having interacted with the Medical Examiner himself, investigators from the ME's office, and attended post-incident/post-autopsy meetings where all available information and evidence was reviewed by both the investigating agency and the ME's office, I can state with certainty that ME's are doing more than simply conducting autopsies. I cannot speak to the practices of all Texas ME's and do not claim to have special knowledge of the internal working environment of the ME's office in my county. Still, I have a hard time believing that all Texas ME's are failing to execute their duties per CCP 49.25. One would think that competent defense attorneys would have already taken them to task for their dereliction; especially in homicide cases where their clients were facing life imprisonment or the death penalty. If I have misread your post, I apologize. Please advise.


Gritsforbreakfast said...

IANAL so I can't speak to the legal questions, David, though I'm not surprised to learn the data gathered may differ from county to county, precinct to precinct, just as it does from state to state.

FWIW, I was interested to learn that Texas and other states have a "state reporting coordinator" (SRC) designated to compile this data. According to the report:

"Once a reportable death is identified, the SRC is responsible for obtaining information regarding the death and completing an arrest-related death incident report (CJ- 11A). Most SRCs use multiple data sources to compile information required to complete the CJ-11A incident reports."

One could probably get a lot deeper into the weeds on this, if they were so inclined, by examining those reports and identifying discrepancies from county to county, potentially mischaracterized homicides, etc.. It'd make for an interesting research project; I was unaware of those sources before reading the report.

A Texas PO said...

I'm more considered about the implication that all homicides in ARDs are attributed to LE. After reading the report, the authors move back and forth between claiming that all 61% of homicides were caused by LE, when their own charts show that this is not true. Sure, only 27 reported homicides were caused by "other persons," but I think it's important to make that distinction. Cops aren't the only ones causing ARD-homicides.

Anonymous said...

Grits posted:

"11% (525) were due to intoxication"

Why is this a noted statistic in this study? Did the police hold a gun on them and make them drink or take the drugs?