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Washington–Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and a group of their colleagues to write to Attorney General William Barr calling for the immediate, full implementation and enforcement of the Death in Custody Reporting Act. 

“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,” the senators wrote. “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.”

In addition to Feinstein and Blumenthal, the letter was also signed by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Cory A. Booker (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). 

The full text of the senators’ letter is below. 

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. 

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[1] Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013, Pub. L. No. 113-242, 128 Stat. 2860 (2014).

[2] See Dep’t of Justice, Office of the Inspector Gen., Review of the Department of Justice’s Implementation of the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013 (Dec. 2018), https://oig.justice.gov/reports/2018/e1901.pdf. In 2018, the Office of the Inspector General issued a report on DOJ’s failure to fully implement the DCRA. The report noted, in part, that “despite the DCRA requirement to collect and report state arrest-related death data by fiscal year (FY) 2016, the Department does not expect to begin its collection of this data until the beginning of FY 2020.” Id. at i. The report also stated, “[W]e found that the Department has no plans to complete a required study of DCRA data and report to Congress on the study’s results.” Id. at 21. We have seen no evidence that would suggest that DOJ, under your leadership, has taken any action since the Inspector General published this report to implement and enforce the DCRA despite the Inspector General’s recommendations on how to do so. Id. at 21-22.