Collaboration Leads to Consolidation of Violent-Deaths Data

Local and federal officials in the U.S. are working on creating the nation's first comprehensive system for collecting data about violent deaths, the New York Times reported Jan. 14.

Currently, information about violent death is scattered among health and law-enforcement authorities in each state. "It's surprising that there hasn't been a national system, especially when you look at the toll that homicide and suicide take both in costs and in terms of life lost," said Richard Withers, co-director of the Firearm Injury Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

About 50,000 violent deaths occur each year in the United States. Because each state and local jurisdiction maintains its own system for gathering information, data is not linked with FBI reports, crime labs, death certificates, coroners' exams, and other sources.

Under the proposed National Violent Death Reporting System, the database will contain comprehensive information from each state, including law-enforcement and public-health sources.

Among the data collected will be whether alcohol or other drugs was a factor in the death; the relationship between perpetrators and victims; the type and source of the weapons used; the mental and physical health of those involved; and whether police or social service agencies had received prior warnings of domestic violence or child abuse.

"We just don't have the information about violent deaths in this country that we need to have, that will allow us to identify trends and risk factors in an adequate way," said Dr. Len Paulozzi, director of the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initiative.

Paulozzi estimated that a national program would cost about $20 million a year.