Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Department of Justice Releases Arrest-Related Death Statistics

by Matt Clarke

The Bureau of Justice Statistics recently released statistics on state and local law enforcement arrest-related deaths for the years 2003 to 2006. Although Georgia, Montana and Maryland failed to respond to the survey and Nevada and Wyoming only provided information for one year, the statistics showed that there were 2,686 arrest-related deaths from 2003-2006. 1,540 were homicides by law enforcement officers.

The major causes of arrest-related deaths for all three years was homicide by law enforcement (57.3%), drug/alcohol intoxication (11.8%), suicide (10.8%), accidental injury (6.8%) and illness/natural causes (5.2%). Males made up 95.8% of the deaths. 43.3% were white, 31.8% black and 21.1% Hispanic. The age group with the greatest percentage of deaths was 25-34 (29.7%), followed by 35-44 (27.4%) and 18-24 (19.2%). 56.2% of the suicide deaths and 45.5% of the illness deaths were Whites. Blacks led deaths by drug or alcohol intoxication (39.6%) and accident (42.7%).

California led all states in the number of arrest-related deaths in 2003-2006 (465), followed by Texas (380) and Flor-ida (277). The deaths were regionally concentrated in the West (938) and South (907) while the Northeast had only 369 and the Midwest 472 arrest-related deaths. Naturally, large-population states such as New York (142), Pennsylvania (113), Illinois (100) and Ohio (97) had more deaths than small population states like Alaska (4), South Dakota (5), Vermont (5) and West Virginia (7).

Homicide as a cause of arrest-related death was highest in California (277), Florida (157), Texas (153) and Arizona (114). This compares with New York (72), Illinois (67), Pennsylvania (75), Ohio (66), Washington State (51), Oregon (46) and New Mexico (42). Suicides were most prevalent in Texas (77), Arizona (34), California (21) and New Mexico (15). Drug and alcohol intoxication deaths were most common in Texas (77), California (70), Florida (24), New York (17), Ari-zona (17) and Ohio (12).

57.6% of the arrestees who died had violent offenses as their most serious offense. 13.6% had public-order offenses, 7.4% property offenses and 7.3% drug offenses. 3.8% of the deaths involved medical or mental health transport. In 10.4%, no criminal activity had been reported.

Local police departments were involved in 1,952 of the arrest-related deaths, followed by Sheriff’s offices (541) and state police or highway patrol (150). As expected, the larger the law enforcement agency, the more reported deaths.

Other than seeming to be a very low number for the total number of arrest-related deaths considering the number that are sensationalized every day on the nightly news, the statistics show some alarming trends. Police actions seem to lead to death much more often in the South and West, indicating a possible culture of police violence. The high rate of drug-and-alcohol-related deaths in California and Texas may indicate a need for better understanding and response by police to arrestees under the influence of those substances. The high suicide rate in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico may indicate a need for a better arrest strategy or the availability of psychiatrists and/or psychologists at arrest scenes. The numbers are self reported by the agencies with no independent verification.

Source: The Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, Deaths in Custody Statistical Tables, available on PLN’s website.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login