There has been a lot of debate recently over excessive force by police, especially after several high-profile deaths during arrests. Now a government agency is adding some vital statistics to that conversation.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics released its findings on arrest-related deaths on Thursday, which estimated about 1,900 people had died while being arrested in 2015. That estimation was based on media reports and police reports for June, July and August of 2015.
Of those deaths in June, July and August, 64 percent were homicides, defined as willful killing of another, 18 percent were suicides and 11 percent were accidents, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Homicides include those ruled justifiable, such as in cases of self-defense.
The Bureau defined arrest-related deaths as any deaths that occur while a person is being detained by law enforcement in an official capacity, when their freedom to leave is limited by an officer prior to or during an arrest, and any death in a lock-up or booking center.
Sandra Bland died while in a jail cell in July 2015. Pulled over for failing to signal when changing lanes in Texas, she was yanked from her car by the officer and accused of assaulting a police officer. The 28-year-old was found hanging in her jail cell three days later and the death was ruled a suicide by authorities, a decision contested by Bland’s family.
Freddie Gray was arrested in April 2015 and was shackled and handcuffed but not strapped in to the back of a police van. He died of severe neck injuries. Police said Gray was arrested for fleeing from police presence without provocation, which is not a crime. Prosecutors dropped all charges against the Baltimore officers involved in Gray’s arrest in July.
The rate of potential arrest-related deaths highly varied by state and region. States in the Northeast reported relatively low numbers, with 1.5 to 3.5 deaths per 1 million people, while states in the West and particularly the Northwest reported higher numbers, with around 5.8 to 13.7 deaths per 1 million people.
When not adjusting by population, California had the highest number of arrest-related deaths, with 64 during that June, July and August 2015 period, followed by Texas with 58 and Florida with 25.
The Bureau started with media reviews, which found 1,348 potential arrest-related deaths in the United States from June 1, 2015 through March 31, 2016. That came out to an average of about 135 arrest-related deaths per month. Those media reports identified 379 deaths in June, July and August 2015, but by reaching out to law enforcement agencies to confirm certain deaths the Bureau found there were actually 425 deaths during that period, a 12 percent difference.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics projected the 1,900 arrest-related deaths for 2015 by relying on media reports and assuming the 12 percent difference across the year.
The preliminary results did not break down arrest-related deaths by demographic, though the surveys provided to medical examiners did request that information.