Saturday, February 11, 2017

About that custodial death report database...

Without being asked to do so – not counting the frequent requests for information – the Texas Attorney General’s office spent $150,000 to index and display reports of deaths in law enforcement custody.

According to records released in response to this scribe's request, the state paid Neos Consulting Group $157,031 to create the database last June. The site, featuring a searchable index of PDF reports on the deaths of Texans, went live in December, the Houston Chronicle reported.

When asked why the office voluntarily set up the database, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Ken Paxton cited “transparency and easier access to the information by the public.”

The reports on deaths of people who die while in the custody of Texas law enforcement have been required for years. Before the new database went live, the office posted online a list of reports that were available, but one would need to file an open records request to obtain the report.

“These reports play a vital role in providing transparency between law enforcement and the public by requiring custodial deaths to be properly reported, investigated, and filed with the OAG for public access,” said Kayleigh Lovvorn, a spokeswoman for Paxton.

While the database is limited to custodial death reports, one could surmise that a similar database for officer-involved shooting reports – also required by state statute – may carry a similar price tag.

In 2015, Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, authored a bill requiring the reports that then became law. Initially, the proposal called for the reports to be posted online in a searchable database, but that requirement was cut in negotiations because of a hefty cost, Johnson said.

This year, Johnson’s at it again. Aside from two other bills that would tie compliance with the police shooting reports requirement to state funding, he’s also proposing requiring the Attorney General’s office to establish a portal for all state-required law enforcement reports.

That would undoubtedly cost precious cash in a tight budget year, but would also increase transparency and enhance public access - or at least the appearance of those things. Texas State University professors last year determined that hundreds of custodial deaths from 2005 to 2015 were missing from the database. Our own Amanda Woog confirmed that about 200 deaths - about one-quarter of those that have occurred in the past decade - were unreported, and the Class B misdemeanor punishment reserved for agencies that don't report their deaths had never been used.

No word from the AG's office on what - if any - role the new index will play in ensuring that agencies comply with the law.


Unknown said...

Wow, 200 missing? It sure seems like you'd find most of the questionable deaths among those missing from the report. Not properly reporting a person dying while in police custody should be a felony IMO.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, 2:02. After all, we just sentenced a woman to EIGHT YEARS in prison for casting an illegal vote. As to creating a new database, I'm happy to donate my time to help cut that price tag.

Anonymous said...

Eight years for an illegal vote. That's just crazy. Has that charge lost his mind? Where do you plan to put her Governor? We're in the middle of a statewide HIRING FREEZE remember? Hopefully those who CAN vote and DON'T will wake up from their apathetic nap and vote out those Republicans who've lost their minds too (as well as their souls). Stop the madness!

Anonymous said...

Probably meant Judge. Get spell check next time or better yet, don't comment.

Anonymous said...

My father passed away 9/9/06 in custody in Palestine TX - TDCJ. Why is he not listed? I am afraid these records are not very comprehensive. I have no other choice than to wonder why?