Scott Statement Following Meeting with Justice Department on Implementation of the Death in Custody Reporting Act

April 29, 2015
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, Congressman Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (VA-03) met with William Sabol, Ph.D., Director of the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), on the measures that BJS is taking to implement the reauthorization of the Death in Custody Reporting Act, which was signed into law by President Obama on December 18, 2014.  The Death in Custody Reporting Act requires federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to report deaths of individuals that occur in their custody or during the course of an arrest.  It is the only post-Ferguson federal legislation to be enacted by Congress to date.

Congressman Scott issued the following statement in response to yesterday’s briefing with Director Sabol and other officials from the Department of Justice:

“I appreciate Director Sabol and the Department of Justice for providing me and other Members of Congress, as well as staff, an update on the implementation of the reauthorization of the Death in Custody Reporting Act.  In light of several recent deaths that have attracted significant media attention as well as justifiable public outcry, it is clear that the federal government needs to exercise greater oversight of federal, state and local law enforcement personnel to ensure that they are protecting and serving all of our citizens.  Ensuring the availability of accurate data will help policymakers and law enforcement agencies pinpoint areas of concern and make informed decisions on how to best address problems.

“To aid in that measure, the Bureau of Justice Statistics is examining and improving how this data is collected from local, state, and federal agencies.  Although a significant majority of law enforcement agencies are currently reporting, some have opted out and others have provided incomplete or inaccurate data.  Director Sabol has assured me that his agency is taking steps to improve the existing methodology and address discrepancies in reporting.  Specifically, by periodically auditing the data they receive against multiple independent sources, such as census data, information collected and published by private organizations on police encounters, as well as media and direct citizen reports, BJS will be better able to ensure that the information is both complete and accurate.

“Without accurate data, it is nearly impossible for BJS to identify variables that lead to an unnecessary and unacceptable risk of individuals dying in custody or during an arrest.  By examining data trends and patterns, the Justice Department and law enforcement agencies will be able to determine what reforms may be necessary to reduce incidences of avoidable deaths in our criminal justice system.

“Again, I appreciate the Director for providing a very timely update and I look forward to meeting with him again in the next several months to discuss initial data that has been collected under the updated law.”

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