As protesters across the nation voice their frustrations over the recent barrage of Black men being killed by police, Congress finally took action and—with very little fanfare—passed a new version of an old bill.
For years, there hasn’t been an accurate account of people who died in police custody because state law enforcement departments weren’t required to report such deaths. Inadequate reports provide a blurred picture of how many deaths the police are responsible for. Even though the bill has passed through Congress, it still only requires the submission of reports.
Most of the protesters have been seeking more substantial action by lawmakers, such as requiring local authorities to automatically have special prosecutors handle police-involved killings, rather than local prosecutors who may be compromised by working on a daily basis with police.
The Death in Custody Reporting Act was originally passed in 2000. The first time around it took years to gather any real data, but the bill expired in 2006.
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), one of the bill’s sponsors, tried to reauthorize the bill four times, but was unsuccessful.
“You can’t begin to improve the situation unless you know what the situation is,” Scott told The Washington Post.
A recent report by the Wall Street Journal found that no one really knows how any people are killed by police every year and that were at least 550 police killings missing from the national count.
In addition, ProPublica reported that the 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that Blacks age 15 to 19 were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.
Florida departments hadn’t submitted data on police shootings since 1997 and New York City hasn’t since 2007.
The new bill, which passed the Senate on Dec. 10 and will now be sent to the president, will require states to provide a quarterly report to the Attorney General on the death “of any person who is detained, under arrest, or is in the process of being arrested,” the bill reads. The report must also include:
- The name, gender, race ethnicity and age of the person killed
- The date, time and location of death
- The law enforcement agency involved
- A description of what led to the shooting
States that fail to comply will be subject to a reduction of funds from the federal government. The money stripped from the states that failed to comply would be reallocated to states that did. Implementing a punishment for non-compliance should encourage states to submit reports, but it will take time for the data to be gathered and even longer to determine what it means and how to address it.
The hope is that accurate reporting will open the door to addressing the issue. The Attorney General would have two years to decide how the information will be used to reduce deaths.
“Your really can’t have an intelligent discussion without good information,” Scott told The Post.