Arrest-Related Deaths in the United States, 2003-2005
By Christopher J. Mumola
BJS Policy Analyst
The Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-297) required the U.S. Department of Justice to begin a quarterly collection of individual death records for all persons incarcerated in State or local correctional facilities, as well as “any person who is in the process of arrest.”
Collection of death records from local jail facilities began in 2000, followed by a separate collection from State prison authorities in 2001.
At the time the Death in Custody Reporting Act was passed, only two States (California and Texas) collected information on all types of arrest-related deaths. For the remaining 48 States and the District of Columbia, the new DCRP collection was the first attempt to perform a comprehensive count of all arrest-related deaths. In California and Texas, State statutes required the reporting of all arrest-related deaths to the State Attorney General’s office.
Defining deaths “in the process of arrest” BJS had to define the term “in the process of arrest,” specified in the Death in Custody Reporting Act (PL 106-297).BJS staff consulted with the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), and criminal justice researchers to identify which circumstances involved an “arrest process.”
All deaths of persons in the physical custody or under the physical restraint of law enforcement officers were included.
This resulted in the reporting of 75 deaths over three years in which no criminal charges were involved. Law enforcement responses to people exhibiting mental health problems accounted for 44 of these cases, while another 9 cases involved persons who had to be restrained by police for medical transportation. In another 22 cases, the reason for law enforcement involvement was not specified, but the record indicated that no criminal charges were involved. The deaths of any other persons not subject to an attempted arrest were excluded, including bystanders and law enforcement officers killed during an attempted arrest.
During 2003-2005, 380 law enforcement officers were killed, and nearly 175,000 assaulted.
Homicides by law enforcement officers made up 55% of all deaths during arrests by State and local agencies.
In each year between 2003 and 2005, homicides accounted for a majority of all reported arrest-related deaths. During this period, States reported 1,106 arrest-related homicides which represented 55% of arrest-related deaths from all causes. Homicides by law enforcement officers accounted for 1,095 arrest-related deaths.
Drug and alcohol intoxication accounted for 13% of all deaths, followed by suicides (12%), accidental injuries (7%), and illness or natural causes (6%). For 157 deaths (8%) a definitive cause was not reported.
Homicides by law enforcement are the only type of arrest related deaths measured by another national statistical program — the Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR) collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The SHR and DCRP measures of homicides by law enforcement have one important difference. The SHR program includes only counts of homicides by law enforcement in which the use of force was ruled “justifiable.” Deaths due to unjustified use of lethal force by officers are counted with other murders. The DCRP counts of homicides by law enforcement include all deaths that resulted from the use of lethal force
A total of 1,095 law enforcement homicides were reported to DCRP, and 1,082 justifiable homicides by police were reported to SHR. Taking the higher count reported by each State for each year, there were a total of 1,489 reported law enforcement homicides.
Across both programs nearly all of the decedents were male, the average age was 33 years old, and over 80% were killed by a handgun.
Three-quarters of the law enforcement homicides reported to DCRP involved arrests for a violent crime. Except for suicides (51%), violent offenders were involved in less than 30% of all other causes of death. Public-order offenders accounted for 8% of homicides, followed by property (4%) and drug offenders(2%).In 2% of cases, law enforcement personnel did not intend to charge the person, but took them into custody for reasons such as medical or mental health needs. Criminal charges were not reported for 8% of law enforcement homicides.
Among all persons killed by law enforcement officers in the process of arrest, 9% would have been charged with the murder or attempted murder of a law enforcement officer, 17% would have been arrested for assaulting an officer, and 2% would have been charged with obstruction of police activity or resisting arrest.
80% of law enforcement homicides involved the use of a weapon by the arrest subject, 96% involved the use of a firearm by officers.
In 80% of the law enforcement homicides, the deceased reportedly used a weapon “to threaten or assault” the arresting officers. In 17% of the homicides, the arrest subject grabbed, hit or fought with the arresting officers.
Few homicides by law enforcement involved persons who appeared intoxicated during the attempted arrest (18%). A third (36%) of persons killed by officers attempted to escape or flee from custody. About 4% of persons killed by police had been placed under physical restraints during the attempted arrest.
Nearly all law enforcement homicides (96%) involved the use of firearms by officers. Handguns were used by officers in 84% of the homicides, and rifles and shotguns in 17%. Three deaths were caused by an officer’s use of a nightstick, baton, or conducted-energy device such as a Taser or stun gun. No weapons were reportedly used in 3% of law enforcement homicides.
During 2003-2005, 380 law enforcement officers were killed, and nearly 175,000 assaulted
Fewer than half (159) of these deaths were homicides. Accidental deaths during arrests (221) accounted for the majority of officer deaths in the line of duty. The number of persons killed by officers in the process of arrest from 2003 to 2005 (1,095) was less than 1% of all reported assaults on law enforcement officers (174,760) over the same period.
Increasing number of arrest-related deaths involved the use of Tasers or other conducted-energy devices
Conducted-energy devices (CEDs), such as stun guns or tasers, were involved in 36 arrest-related deaths reported to DCRP during 2003 through 2005. In about half of these deaths (17), the CED was reported as the weapon that caused the death. In the remaining 19 deaths, the use of a CED was indicated, but it was not reported as the cause of the death*. The involvement of CEDs in arrest-related deaths increased from 3 deaths in 2003 to 24 in 2005. Every type of arrest-related death was reported among the 36 deaths involving the use of CEDs. The most common cause of death was intoxication (10), followed by accidents (8), and homicides by law enforcement (7). One death was attributed to illness and another death was a suicide. In 9 cases where CED-use was reported, a cause of death could not be determined.
Arrests for violent crimes were involved in 16 of the CED-involved deaths, and 8 deaths involved property crimes. In two cases, the deceased was detained for mental health care, and in five cases no information on criminal offense was reported.
*Among medical and law enforcement experts, the ability of CEDs to cause a death is a subject of debate. Due to reporting gaps, these 36 cases do not represent a complete count of all deaths in which the use of a CED was involved.
Total 36 – Taser related deaths
2003 - 3
2004 - 9
2005 - 24
Cause of death
Homicide by law enforcement - 7
Intoxication - 10
Suicide - 1
Accidental injury - 8
Illness - 1
Other/unknown - 9
Most serious offense
Violent - 16
Property - 8
Drug - 2
Public-order - 3
No criminal charges intended - 2
Offense not reported - 5
Many of the arrest-related deaths undergo lengthy investigations by prosecutors, police departments, and coroner’s offices to determine a cause of death or decide a legal disposition of the case. It took up to 15 months to finalize cause of death information for some cases.
While DCRP is the only national statistical program that measures all types of arrest-related deaths, two other national programs measure law enforcement homicides. Law enforcement agencies can submit Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR) as part of the FBI’s Uniform Crime
Reporting (UCR) program. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) also compiles mortality statistics, including a category for law enforcement homicides. The SHR records include basic data on the type of homicide, the relationship between the deceased and assailant, and demographic characteristics of the deceased. Law enforcement agencies describe the event as a “justifiable homicide by police.”
NCHS counts of legal intervention deaths are available at: http://wonder.cdc.gov/
Connecticut reported 9 In custody Deaths during the 2003-2005 study period…these 9 deaths were reportedly caused by homicide.
Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics: