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DOJ, Bureau of Justice Statistics - Assessment of Coverage in the Arrest-Related Deaths Program, 2015

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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Justice Programs
Bureau of Justice Statistics

TECHNICAL REPORT

October 2015, NCJ 249099

Assessment of Coverage in the
Arrest-Related Deaths Program
Duren Banks, Ph.D. and Lance Couzens, RTI International
Michael Planty, Ph.D., Bureau of Justice Statistics

Executive summary
After the passage of the Death in Custody Reporting Act
(DICRA) of 2000 (P.L. 106-297), the Bureau of Justice
Statistics (BJS) began collecting data on deaths that occurred
in the process of arrest. Provisions in the 2000 DICRA
called for collecting all deaths occurring within the process
of arrest in any state, county, or local law enforcement
agency nationwide. From 2003 through 2009, BJS obtained
reports on 4,813 such deaths through its Arrest-Related
Deaths (ARD) program. About 3 in 5 of these deaths
(2,931) were classified as homicides by law enforcement
personnel. The remaining 2 in 5 deaths were attributed to
other manners, including suicide (11%), intoxication deaths
(11%), accidental injury (6%), and natural causes (5%).1
In three-quarters (75%) of homicides by law enforcement
personnel, the underlying offense of arrest was a violent
offense. No criminal charges were intended in less than 2%
of these incidents.
To assess the completeness of the ARD data that BJS
received, in 2013 BJS undertook a technical review of the
ARD program’s methodology and an assessment of the
program’s coverage of all arrest-related deaths in the United
States. The methodology review examined the variation
in states’ approaches to identifying and confirming arrestrelated deaths. The assessment of coverage focused on
determining whether BJS received all arrest-related deaths
that occurred or only a portion of them. The primary focus
of the assessment of coverage was on homicides by law
enforcement officers.

Figure 1
Estimated number of law enforcement homicides
and percent not reported, by data source, 2003–2009
and 2011
Number of homicides reported
Percent of expected deaths not reported to the ARD or SHR
8,000
7,000
6,000

7,427
(100%)

51%

54%

5,000

28%
5,324
(72%)

4,000
3,000

3,620
(49%)

3,385
(46%)

Reported
to ARD

Reported
to SHR

2,000
1,000
0

Estimated
universe

Reported to
either ARD or SHR

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Arrest-Related Deaths (ARD) program,
2003–2009 and 2011; and FBI, Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR),
2003–2009 and 2011.

The analysis showed that the ARD program obtained fewer
law enforcement homicide deaths than expected, based on
the methodology used to estimate the expected number of

law enforcement homicides. It also showed that the data BJS
used for comparison purposes—the FBI’s Supplementary
Homicide Reports (SHR)—also reported fewer justifiable
homicides than expected.2 In total, the BJS ARD program
data and the SHR data each identified about half of the
expected number of homicides by law enforcement officers
during the period from 2003 through 2009 and 2011
(figure 1). The ARD program captured approximately 49%
of these homicides, while the SHR captured 46%. More than
a quarter (28%) of law enforcement homicides in the United
States were not captured by either system. The analysis

1Arrest-Related Deaths, 2003–2009 - Statistical Tables (NCJ

2Arrest-related Deaths Program Assessment: Technical Report (NCJ

web, November 2011).

235385, BJS

BJS web, March 2015).

248543,

Celebrating
35 years

also showed that the ARD program obtained more arrestrelated deaths in 2009 and 2011, when BJS began to use open
source methods (e.g., Google searches to identify potential
cases), compared with prior years when BJS did not use open
source methods.3
Drawing from the results of this study, BJS has begun a pilot
study that explores multiple methods of identifying and
confirming deaths occurring in the process of arrest. The study
will inform BJS efforts to implement the requirements of the
reauthorized 2013 DICRA (P.L. 113-242).

Arrest-Related Deaths program assessment
BJS designed the ARD program to be a census of all deaths
that occurred in the process of arrest or during an attempt
to obtain custody by a state or local law enforcement agency.
BJS collected ARD data from 2003 through 2013, covering
deaths occurring in calendar years 2003 through 2012.4
BJS implemented the ARD program as part of its Deaths in
Custody Reporting Program (DCRP), which it developed in
response to the 2000 DICRA and includes collections that
measure deaths occurring in jails and state prisons, in addition
to deaths occurring during the process of arrest.5, 6
The ARD program identified the manner of arrest-related
death, including law enforcement homicides, other homicides,
accidents, suicides, and deaths due to natural causes. Law
enforcement homicides included all deaths attributed
to weapons or restraint tactics used by state or local law
enforcement officers. From 2003 through 2009, about 61% of
all deaths reported to the ARD program were law enforcement
homicides.7
3ARD

program data for 2010 were unavailable due to a shift in data
collection methodology between 2009 and 2011.
4BJS

only published statistics from calendar years 2003 through 2009.

5The

2000 DICRA expired in 2006, although BJS continued to maintain
its DCRP data collections. The 2013 DICRA was passed by Congress
and became law in December 2014. The 2013 DICRA requires any state
receiving funds from the Department of Justice to report on a quarterly
basis information regarding the death of any person who is detained,
under arrest, or in the process of being arrested; is en route to be
incarcerated; or is incarcerated.
6For

more information on the Deaths in Custody Reporting Program, see
the BJS website.
7See

Arrest-Related Deaths, 2003–2009 - Statistical Tables (NCJ 235385, BJS
web, November 2011).

As part of its ongoing efforts to evaluate the quality of its
statistical programs, BJS began to assess the quality of ARD
program data in 2013. This assessment focused on the
methodology used to obtain the data and on the completeness
of the arrest-related deaths reported to the program. In part,
BJS began this assessment in response to an unexpected
increase in the number of law enforcement homicides reported
to the ARD program in 2009 and 2011. In these years, BJS
began to use open sources (e.g., web searches and Google
Alerts) and other methods to independently identify potential
cases of deaths in the process of arrest. These cases were
then sent to BJS’s state data collection agents for review and
verification. The implementation of this new methodology led
to an increase in the number of homicides by law enforcement
reported to the ARD that was more than the average number
(406) for previous years. For example, BJS obtained 689 reports
of law enforcement homicides in 2011, which represented a
39% increase from the 496 reported in 2009 (figure 2).
Given the increase in the number of deaths identified by the
ARD program after changes in methodology, along with
concerns about overall program coverage, BJS temporarily
suspended ARD data collection while it undertook the ARD
program assessment and technical review. A primary focus
of this BJS study was to estimate the coverage error (i.e., the
percentage of the expected number of ARD deaths that the
program missed).
Figure 2
Number of law enforcement homicides reported to the
ARD program and estimated, lower bound, 2003–2009
and 2011
Number of law enforcement
homicides reported to ARD
700
600
500
400
300

47%

42%

43%

39%

377

375

377

447

51%
455

Estimated percent of the number
of deaths reported to ARD
69%
70
689
55%
60
41%

50

496

40

404

30

200

20

100

10

0

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007
Year

2008

2009

2010*

2011 0

*2010 data not released.
Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Arrest-Related Deaths (ARD) program,
2003–2009 and 2011.

Assessment of Coverage in the Arrest-Related Deaths Program | October 2015	

2

Methodology review and coverage assessment
The ARD program had methodological limitations that
prevented BJS from obtaining a full enumeration of all arrestrelated deaths in the United States. The program relied on
voluntary reporting from state and local agencies to compile
information about arrest-related deaths, including law
enforcement homicides. It also relied on centralized reporting
mechanisms to compile and submit information about these
deaths. These state reporting coordinators (SRC) in each of
the 50 states and the District of Columbia were responsible for
understanding the scope and definition of the ARD program,
identifying eligible cases in their respective states, and working
with available resources to collect and report information
about those cases. Not all states had an SRC. In those states,
BJS relied on its contractor to take on the SRC role. As of 2009,
several jurisdictions (i.e., Arkansas, the District of Columbia,
Georgia, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, Wisconsin, and
Wyoming) had yet to participate in the program.
BJS studied the completeness of all law enforcement homicides
reported to the ARD program by using both ARD data and a
separate source of data on law enforcement homicides—the
FBI’s SHR data.8 BJS compared the number of law enforcement
homicides reported by the ARD program from 2003 through
2009 and 2011, representing all of the ARD program years
for which data were available, with the number of justifiable
homicides captured by the SHR over the same period.9
Applying a commonly used technique known as capturerecapture to estimate the size of populations, the BJS
assessment produced an estimate of the expected number of
law enforcement homicides in the United States. This estimate
was based on the extent to which the ARD and SHR data on
law enforcement homicides overlapped (i.e., reported on the
same cases).10 As the amount of overlap between the data
sources increased, the estimated underlying population size got
closer to the number of cases in the data sources.
8SHR

data are voluntarily provided by law enforcement agencies to the
FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) Program. For more information
about the UCR program, see https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/ucr.
9The

UCR Program handbook defines justifiable homicides as (1) the
killing of a felon by a police officer in the line of duty or (2) the killing of a
felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen.

Capture-recapture analysis relies on a number of assumptions,
including that cases can be matched across lists, that the lists
are limited to cases that meet the definition of law enforcement
homicides, and that inclusion on one list is independent from
inclusion on the other. Many of these assumptions were met,
but the nature of the ARD program and SHR necessitated
the violation of other assumptions (including independence
across lists, as some ARD SRCs relied on the same reporting
mechanisms as those that inform the SHR). RTI International
implemented a number of adjustments to account for these
violations.11
In the assessment, BJS generated estimates based on differing
assumptions about missing data. This resulted in an upperand a lower-bound estimate of the expected number of law
enforcement homicides that should have been reported to the
ARD program, if the ARD data were 100% complete.
Across the 8 years of data used in the analysis from 2003
through 2009 and 2011, the lower-bound estimate of the
expected number of law enforcement homicides that should
have been reported to the ARD program was 7,427, or an
average of 928 per year (table 1). The ARD program captured
approximately half (49%) or 3,620 of these homicides (an
average of 453 a year), whereas the SHR captured 46% or
3,385 of these homicides (423 per year). More than a quarter
(28%) or 2,103 of the estimated homicides in the United States
during those 8 years were not captured by either system. The
lower-bound estimate assumed that any agencies that did not
report to the ARD or SHR programs did not have an arrestrelated death during the study period. The upper-bound
estimate assumed the number of arrest-related deaths in law
enforcement agencies that did not report to the ARD or the
SHR were comparable to those of the agencies that did report.
This yielded an estimated 9,937 law enforcement homicides
in the United States, an average of 1,242 per year, of which the
ARD program captured more than a third (36%).
11For descriptions of the violations, see Arrest-Related Deaths Program

Assessment: Technical Report (NCJ 248543, BJS web, March 2015).

Table 1
Number and percent of law enforcement homicides
captured, by source and estimation approach,
2003–2009 and 2011

10See

Palusci, V.J., Wirtz, S.J. & Convington, T.M. (2010). Using capturerecapture methods to better ascertain the incidence of fatal child
maltreatment. Child Abuse & Neglect, 24, 396–402. See also Wolter,
K.M. (1986). Some coverage error models for census data. Journal of the
American Statistical Association, 81, 338–346.

Law enforcement homicides
Estimated universe
Observed deaths
ARD
SHR
Unobserved deaths

Lower-bound estimate
Percent of
Number universe
7,427
100%
5,324
72%
3,620
49
3,385
46
2,103
28%

Upper-bound estimate
Percent of
Number universe
9,937
100%
5,324
54%
3,620
36
3,385
34
4,613
46%

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Arrest-Related Deaths (ARD) program,
2003–2009 and 2011; and FBI, Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR), 2003–2009
and 2011.

Assessment of Coverage in the Arrest-Related Deaths Program | October 2015	

3

As BJS implemented changes to improve the ARD collection
methodology, the program’s coverage of arrest-related deaths
improved. Analysis indicated that the ARD program included a
greater proportion of the estimated law enforcement homicides
in 2009 and 2011 than it did from 2003 through 2008. In 2011,
the ARD program captured 69% of the estimated 1,000 law
enforcement homicides in the United States (figure 3).

Conclusions
BJS’s analysis of the ARD program’s coverage found that for the
study period from 2003 through 2009 and 2011, both the ARD
program and the SHR obtained reports for only about half
of the expected number of law enforcement homicides in the
United States. Examining the data on deaths that were reported
to either or both systems, BJS found that, combined, the
systems obtained reports on at best 72% of all law enforcement
homicides in the United States across all years observed.
The ARD program showed improvements in coverage in the
most recent years studied (i.e., 2009 and 2011), and these
improvements coincided with the increased use of open-source
data to identify potential cases of arrest-related deaths. Despite
demonstrated improvements over time, the ARD program
missed reports for more than a quarter of the expected number
of law enforcement homicides in 2011.

Figure 3
Number of law enforcement homicides reported to the
ARD program and estimated, unadjusted coverage,
2003–2009 and 2011
Estimated number of law enforcement homicides
1,200

Reported number of
law enforcement homicides

1,000
800
600
400
200
0

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007
Year

2008

2009

2010*

2011

*2010 data not released.
Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Arrest-Related Deaths (ARD) program,
2003–2009 and 2011.

The ARD program coverage may be improved by providing a
more centralized method for identifying arrest-related deaths
and providing incentives for law enforcement agencies to
confirm or identify deaths that occur during the process of
arrest and to provide information about them. Therefore, BJS
has begun to explore the use of open-source data to identify
arrest-related deaths in conjunction with a direct survey of law
enforcement and other agencies responsible for investigating
deaths in the process of arrest. The study will inform BJS
efforts to implement the requirements of the reauthorized
DICRA of 2013 (P.L. 113-242).

Assessment of Coverage in the Arrest-Related Deaths Program | October 2015	

4

The Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice is the
principal federal agency responsible for measuring crime, criminal
victimization, criminal offenders, victims of crime, correlates of crime,
and the operation of criminal and civil justice systems at the federal, state,
tribal, and local levels. BJS collects, analyzes, and disseminates reliable and
valid statistics on crime and justice systems in the United States, supports
improvements to state and local criminal justice information systems,
and participates with national and international organizations to develop
and recommend national standards for justice statistics. William J. Sabol
is director.
This report was written by Duren Banks and Lance Couzens, RTI
International, and Michael Planty, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Lynn Langton
provided verification of the report.
Morgan Young and Jill Thomas edited the report. Tina Dorsey and Barbara
Quinn produced the report.
October 2015, NCJ 249099

NCJ249099

Celebrating
35 years

Office of Justice Programs
Innovation • Partnerships • Safer Neighborhoods
www.ojp.usdoj.gov

 

 

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