2,002 US arrest-related deaths in 3 years: Study

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WASHINGTON, Oct 12 (Reuters) More than 2,000 people died during arrests by US state and local police between 2003 and 2005, the US Justice Department reported in its first national compilation of arrest-related deaths.

Deaths involving tasers or stun guns, which human rights advocates have criticized as inhumane, also rose sharply during the period.

Congress mandated the report in its Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2000, billed as a way to hold law enforcement accountable for suspicious deaths.

The report found that ''homicides by state and local law enforcement officers'' were responsible for 55 percent of the 2,002 deaths recorded in 47 states and Washington, DC.

In 80 per cent of those homicides, the person being detained had used a weapon to threaten or assault an officer.

The study did not attempt to determine how many homicides were justifiable, said study author Christopher Mumola of the Bureau of Justice Statistics yesterday.

But he said the numbers closely track FBI statistics on justifiable killings by police, and in almost all cases the suspects tried to take some action against the arresting officer or to flee.

During the same three-year period, about 40 million people were arrested in the United States. ''These events are still fairly rare,'' Mumola said of the deaths.

Some 380 law-enforcement officers died in accidents or homicides in the line of duty over the study period.

In a surprise, Mumola said, the second-leading cause of deaths during arrests, at 13 per cent, was drug or alcohol intoxication. Suicides accounted for another 12 per cent.

Only about one-third of those who died of intoxication had been detained for drug- or alcohol-related offenses. ''Police are encountering people for all types of crimes ... who can have very profound levels of impairment,'' he said.

Whites were far more likely than blacks to commit suicide during arrest, while blacks accounted for the largest share of deaths by intoxication.

Of all the arrest-related deaths, 44 per cent were among whites, 32 per cent black, 20 per cent Hispanic and 4 per cent other races. FBI figures for 2005 show that whites accounted for 70 per cent of all arrests and blacks for 28 per cent. The FBI did not give figures for Hispanics.

Tasers or other so-called ''conducted-energy devices'' were involved in 36 arrest-related deaths, rising from three in 2003 and nine in 2004 to 24 in 2005.

The rise reflects a surge in police departments using the devices, Mumola said. Critics say the weapons have been used for purposes far beyond their intended use as a non-lethal alternative to guns.

Amnesty International has urged law-enforcement agencies, mostly in vain, to suspend their use. A 2006 report by the group found more than 150 people in the United States had died after being struck by tasers since 2001.

Mumola said the lower Justice Department figures reflect reporting differences.

Three states -- Georgia, Maryland and Montana -- failed to submit records required under the act. Federal law enforcement agencies were not required to report arrest-related deaths.

Reuters DKS VP0615

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