What’s Behind the State’s High Rates of Death During Arrests?

An statewide investigation from the Dallas Morning News found a nearly 90 percent increase of in-custody deaths in the past decade. But why?

By Alain StephensJuly 18, 2016 8:41 am,

Do African-Americans face a higher risk of death in the arrest process? Anecdotally, it seems true – Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are recent examples. What about in Texas?

The Lone Star state has seen a drop in the number of arrests, but the number of arrest-related deaths has gone up. Statistics for African-Americans arrested are especially grim.

Brandi Grissom, a Dallas Morning News reporter, says they analyzed a decade of state data on what are called “in-custody deaths” – “anytime anyone died during the course of an arrest,” whether it’s from an overdose, suicide or shooting.

“From 2005 to 2015, we found that there was almost a 90 percent increase of the number of people who died during the course of an arrest,” she says. “It was a pretty shocking number.”

The number of arrests during the same time decreased by more than 20 percent, Grissom says, which made the percentage of arrests ending in death even more “startling.” In Texas, about 12 percent of the overall population is African-American, but make up 1 in 4 arrests.

“On average, for the years that we looked at,” she says, “it made African-Americans accounted for about 25 to 26 percent of the deaths that we saw.”

The reasons for this disparity, Grissom says, depend on who you ask. Advocates, often lawyers for the families of those who died in custody, look to police training, or lack thereof, for why more African-Americans die in custody.

“They feel like the problem is attributed to a lack of police training about how to de-escalate really intense situations that they come upon,” she says. “They also attribute it to a lack of accountability. There are very few officers who face indictment or legal consequences as a result of these deaths during arrest.”

Law enforcement attribute it to increased unrest post-Ferguson. “They’re on high-alert, and as a result, the citizens are on high-alert,” she says, “and it results in this really tense situations a lot of times when they come across people.”

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.

Post by Hannah McBride.