12.05.14

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, Urging Passage of H.R. 1447, the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013

I have long worked to pass legislation to bring additional transparency and accountability to the government. I do so again today by calling on all Senators to support the Death in Custody Reporting Act, a bill that has moved multiple times through the Senate Judiciary Committee and should pass the Senate without further delay. 

This is about an open and fair government. The Death in Custody Reporting Act requires that local and Federal law enforcement officials report deaths that occur while people are held in their custody, including those that occur during arrest.  Nothing more.  Just yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported that hundreds of police-related deaths are unaccounted for in federal statistics.  I ask that the article, “Hundreds of Police Killings Are Uncounted in Federal Stats,” be made part of the record. The details of the article are unacceptable.  The Justice Department should have an opportunity to analyze the data and see what we can learn from it. And the American people deserve the same. 

This important opportunity for needed transparency comes at a time when many Americans are losing faith in our justice system.  We are having an important conversation about the loss of human life in communities across the country.  Here we have an opportunity to instill some measure of accountability, and hopefully begin to restore some measure of trust in these communities. 

This legislation, sponsored by Congressman Bobby Scott, overwhelmingly passed the House last year in a bipartisan vote.  We reported the bill out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in a similarly strong bipartisan vote, with Ranking Member Grassley speaking in strong support of the legislation.  Currently, every single Senate Democrat is in support of its passage, but a handful of Senate Republicans are not yet convinced.  It is my hope that they soon reconsider, and we can send this legislation to the President for signature without delay.  The American people would expect as much.

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