Police custody and custody-related operations

Deaths in police custody and custody-related operations by category of custody, 1989–90 to 2014–15 (n)

Note: ‘Close contact’ refers to deaths in institutional settings (eg police cell) and deaths in police operations where officers were in close contact with the deceased (see Category 1). ‘Non-close contact’ refers to deaths that occurred during custody-related police operations where police were not in such close contact with the deceased that they could significantly influence the person’s behaviour (see Category 2).

Source: AIC NDICP 1989–2015 [computer file]

Since 1989–90, 782 deaths have occurred in police custody and custody-related operations.

Of these, just under half (46%) were classified as ‘close contact’ (custody and operational) deaths and just over half (54%) were classified as ‘non-close contact’ (operational and detainment) deaths.

After an initial decline in the early 1990s, close contact deaths fluctuated in the nine years to 2014–15, while non-close contact deaths have generally declined since 2003–04.

For deaths in police custody and custody-related operations by jurisdiction, see Appendix Table 3.

Deaths in police custody and custody-related operations by age category, 1989–90 to 2014–15 (n)

Note: Excludes one case where age was not recorded

Source: AIC NDICP 1989–2015 [computer file]

In most years since 1989–90, the largest number of persons who died in police custody were aged 25–39 years. This age group made up 43 percent (n=333) of all persons who have died in police custody during the 1989–90 to 2014–15 period. The number of deaths among this age group declined from 18 in 2011–12 to six in 2014–15, which contributed to an overall decrease in police custody and custody-related operation deaths during this time.

Police custody deaths among those aged under 25 years were the next most common during the 26 year reporting period (29%; n=224). A marked decrease in the number of police custody deaths of persons 25 years or younger began in 2009–10.

Deaths in police custody and custody-related operations by Indigenous status, 1989–90 to 2014–15 (%)

Note: Excludes three cases where Indigenous status was not recorded

Source: AIC NDICP 1989–2015 [computer file]

One-fifth (20%; n=153) of all police custody and custody-related operation deaths between 1989–90 and 2014–15 were of Indigenous people.

The largest number of Indigenous deaths in police custody (n=11) occurred in 2002–03 and 2004–05 and the lowest (n=1) in 2013–14. The lowest number of non-Indigenous deaths in police custody and custody-related operations was also recorded in 2013–14 (n=11).

Deaths in police custody and custody-related operations by method of detainment, 1989–90 to 2014–15 (n)

Note: Includes ‘detainment-related’ deaths only (vs institutional, escape & other types of custody deaths)

Source: AIC NDICP 1989–2015 [computer file]

Almost three-quarters (74%; n=575) of deaths in police custody between 1989–90 and 2014–15 happened during an attempt to detain a person. Of these, the most common were motor vehicle pursuit (MVP) deaths (38%) followed by deaths recorded as ‘other’ (30%).

While MVP deaths have varied over the years, there was a decline in number from 2008–09 (n=15) to 2014–15 (n=3).

Police custody deaths occurring during sieges (16%; n=92), other pursuits (9%; n=53) and raids (7%; n=39) have remained relatively stable since 1989–90.

Deaths in police custody and custody-related operations by cause of death, 1989–90 to 2014–15 (n)

Source: AIC NDICP 1989–2015 [computer file]

A third of all deaths in police custody and custody operations were caused by external/multiple trauma. Just under a third of police custody deaths were caused by gunshot wounds (29%).

In 2014–15 gunshot wounds were the most common cause of death in police custody and custody operations. During this year the number of police shooting deaths (n=10) was the second highest recorded since 1989–90.

Deaths in police custody and custody-related operations by manner of death, 1989–90 to 2014–15 (n)

Note: The self-inflicted category includes self-harm, whether intentional or unknown, and accidental hangings

Note: Justifiable homicide refers to the killing of a person in circumstances which allow the act to be regarded in law as without criminal guilt

Source: AIC NDICP 1989–2015 [computer file]

Overall, accidents (39%; n=303) and self-inflicted deaths (32%; n=245) have been the most common manner of death in police custody and custody-related operations since 1989–90.

Of the 34 police custody and custody-related operation deaths in 2013–14 and 2014–15, 13 (38%) were categorised as justifiable homicides, nine (26%) as self-inflicted, seven (21%) as accidents, four (12%) as having natural causes and one (3%) death was classified as ‘other’.

Shooting deaths, 1989–90 to 2014–15 (n)

Note: Excludes 25 cases where shooting death status was not recorded

Source: AIC NDICP 1989–2015 [computer file]

Since 1989–90, 227 shooting deaths have taken place during policy custody and custody-related operations. Of these, 123 (54%) were police shootings and 103 (45%) were self-inflicted. Just one fatal shooting involved the deceased being shot by someone other than themselves or the police.

There has been no clear trend in police or self-inflicted shooting deaths, nor has one category of shooting death consistently exceeded the other.

The number of police shooting deaths in 2014–15 (n=10) is the second highest recorded since 1989–90.