Wyden Demands Full Implementation and Enforcement of the Death in Custody Reporting Act

Washington, DC – U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden today called on Attorney General William Barr immediately to fully implement and enforce a law that requires states to report to the Department of Justice (DOJ) how many individuals die each year while in police custody or during the course of an arrest.

Six years after Congress reauthorized the Death in Custody Reporting Act (DCRA), that law still has not been fully implemented or enforced, despite a 2018 DOJ Inspector General report that provided clear recommendations for how to ensure compliance.

“One stark, staggering fact is that there exists no reliable metric on the number of law enforcement-related deaths that occur each year because DOJ has failed to implement and enforce the DCRA,” said the letter from Wyden and 16 other senators. “To be clear, the DCRA will not alone solve the underlying problem. We acknowledge that the data collected pursuant to the DCRA is neither the justice, nor the accountability that the problem demands, but it is a critical step in that direction.

“That data can—and will—inform the substantive and structural reforms that we must make in the weeks and months ahead,” the senators wrote Barr. “To that end, we demand that you begin the immediate implementation and enforcement of the DCRA.”

The letter led by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) also was signed by U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Cory A. Booker (D-NJ), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Dick Durbin (D-IL) Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

A web version of this release is here. The full text of the letter is below.

Dear Attorney General Barr:

We write to request that the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) take immediate action to implement and enforce the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013 (“DCRA”).[1] It has been six years since Congress passed, with bipartisan support, the DCRA and, in those six years, DOJ has not taken meaningful steps toward full implementation or enforcement.[2] That is simply unacceptable.

            The DCRA was passed in 2014, following the tragic law enforcement-related deaths of two Black men—Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City, New York. In passing the DCRA, Congress had a singular purpose—that state and federal law enforcement agencies must report to the Attorney General when a person dies in their custody. That data, in turn, would help us, as policymakers, and the Attorney General, as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, make critical decisions to reduce the number of these preventable deaths. To encourage states to report these deaths, Congress gave the Attorney General an enforcement mechanism—the authority to withhold up to 10-percent of the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program funds from states that failed to comply with the DCRA reporting requirement.

The moment in which we find ourselves today—having witnessed the recent law enforcement-related deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks—is not unlike the moment in which the DCRA was passed. But that is because the moment is one and the same. The deaths of Black and Brown men and women at the hands of law enforcement did not stop with Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Countless others have died since, which is to say nothing of those whose lives were taken before. It is precisely because of these repeated moments in history we need the DCRA now more than ever.

One stark, staggering fact is that there exists no reliable metric on the number of law enforcement-related deaths that occur each year because DOJ has failed to implement and enforce the DCRA. To be clear, the DCRA will not alone solve the underlying problem. We acknowledge that the data collected pursuant to the DCRA is neither the justice, nor the accountability that the problem demands, but it is a critical step in that direction. That data can—and will—inform the substantive and structural reforms that we must make in the weeks and months ahead. To that end, we demand that you begin the immediate implementation and enforcement of the DCRA.

            Thank you for your timely attention to this matter.

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