Reporting Violent Deaths
Theories abound on
violence, its perpetrators, its origins and its implications. But ask
for the supporting data and you’ll come up short. That’s because
epidemiological research in this field is in its infancy. To date, studies
have been small and disjointed, and no real effort has been made to gain
a broader perspective on risk factors and trends. But without solid research
to inform action, the status quo is unlikely to change.
accounts for roughly 50,000 deaths annually in this country, with 58 percent
of those attributed to suicide, 33 percent to homicide and 10 percent
to other causes. In September 2002, the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) announced grants of $7.5 million to support six states
over five years to be the forerunners in establishing a comprehensive
National Violent Death Reporting System. New Jersey— along with
Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, South Carolina, and Virginia—will
compile more than 100 pieces of information on each violent death from
death certificates, medical examiners’ findings, uniform crime reports
and police ballistics data and will forward the material to a central
data bank at the CDC. January 2003 marked the beginning of the project.
for Health Statistics of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior
Services is collaborating with The Violence Institute of New Jersey (VINJ)
to gather this detailed information, produce an annual report on violent
deaths in the state, do geographical mapping of violent death “hot
spots” and create a public use file for researchers. To ensure confidentiality,
all names of those involved are removed. VINJ is part of UMDNJ–University
Behavioral HealthCare, and was founded in 1997 to conduct research into
the causes, prevention and reduction of violence in the state, and to
establish outreach activities.
This new violence
reporting system is based on the Fatality Analysis Reporting System established
by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the 1970s, which
collects more than 100 pieces of data on each fatal motor vehicle crash.
Patterns uncovered through study of this data have fueled laws on seat
belts, air bags, speed limits and have impacted the design of cars.
In cases of suicide, homicide and other violent deaths, what pieces of
information are deemed vital to the success of the project? “We
need details about alcohol and drug involvement; the locations, circumstances
and relationships among people involved in homicides; what types of weapons
were used and where they were obtained; what role domestic abuse plays
in homicide; the mental and physical health of those involved in violence;
and the role of gangs, to name just a few items,” says Bruce Stout,
PhD, director of VINJ.
all this data together, we can look at the etiology of violent behavior
in new ways,” says Stout. “This comprehensive reporting system
will incrementally improve our understanding of homicide, but there will
be a leap change in our comprehension of suicide, about which there is
very little known.”