July 16, 2020

Schumer, Gillibrand: DOJ Must Take Immediate Action To Implement And Enforce Death In Custody Reporting Act

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand recently joined colleagues in a letter to Department of Justice Attorney General Barr requesting that Department of Justice (DOJ) take immediate action to implement and enforce the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013 (DCRA). The bill requires state and federal law enforcement to report to the DOJ how many individuals die each year while in police custody or during the course of an arrest. 

Despite a 2018 DOJ Inspector General report that provided clear recommendations for how to ensure compliance, the law still has not been fully implemented or enforced.

“In the years since Congress passed the bi-partisan Death in Custody Reporting Act, too many African American and Latino people have continued to suffer tragic deaths at the hands of law enforcement, yet the Department of Justice has failed to implement and enforce the law designed to improve transparency and accountability,” said Senator Schumer. “This critical piece of legislation requires state and federal law enforcement agencies to report to the Attorney General when a person dies in their custody. The implementation and enforcement of the DCRA is just one step in the right direction to bring lasting change to policing in America and the Department of Justice must act now.”

“It has been six years since the passage of the Death in Custody Reporting Act, a bill with bipartisan support. LayleenPolanco, Sandra Bland, Andrew Kearse and George Floyd – among countless other Black and brown individuals – should still be alive,” said Senator Gillibrand. “While enforcing this measure won’t bring them back or undo the pain their families needlessly suffered, implementing and enforcing this bill is a critical first step towards much needed substantive and structural reform.” 

Senator Gillibrand previously introduced the Andrew Kearse Accountability for Denial of Medical Care Act which would hold federal law enforcement and corrections officials criminally liable when they fail to obtain or provide medical care for individuals in their custody who are experiencing medical distress. It also requires training for federal law enforcement and corrections officials on assisting individuals in medical distress. Lastly, it directs the Inspectors General of the agencies that employ federal law enforcement officers to investigate potential violations and refer them to the Department of Justice for prosecution. In New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed similar legislation requiring police officers to provide medical and mental health attention to individuals in custody.

Read the full text of the letter below:

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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.