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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Unexpected Arrest-Related Deaths in America: 12 Months of Open Source Surveillance


Introduction: Sudden, unexpected arrest-related death (ARD) has been associated with drug abuse, extreme delirium or certain police practices. There is insufficient surveillance and causation data available. We report 12 months of surveillance data using a novel data collection methodology.

Methods: We used an open-source, prospective method to collect 12 consecutive months of data, including demographics, behavior, illicit substance use, control methods used, and time of collapse after law enforcement contact. Descriptive analysis and chi-square testing were applied.

Results: There were 162 ARD events reported that met inclusion criteria. The majority were male with mean age 36 years, and involved bizarre, agitated behavior and reports of drug abuse just prior to death. Law enforcement control techniques included none (14%); empty-hand techniques (69%); intermediate weapons such as TASER device, impact weapon or chemical irritant spray (52%); and deadly force (12%). Time from contact to subject collapse included instantaneous (13%), within the first hour (53%) and 1-48 hours (35%). Significant collapse time associations occurred with the use of certain intermediate weapons.

Conclusion: This surveillance report can be a foundation for discussing ARD. These data support the premise that ARDs primarily occur in persons with a certain demographic and behavior profile that includes middle-aged males exhibiting agitated, bizarre behavior generally following illicit drug abuse. Collapse time associations were demonstrated with the use of TASER devices and impact weapons. We recommend further study in this area to validate our data collection method and findings. [WestJEM. 2009;10:68-73.]

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