National Violent Death Reporting System
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a violent death?
A violent death results from the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or a group or community. The person using the force or power need only to have intended to use force or power; he or she need not to have intended to produce the consequence that actually occurred. "Physical force" should be interpreted broadly to include the use of poisons or drugs. The word "power" includes acts of neglect or omission by one person who has control over another. Examples of violent deaths include homicides and suicides.
Which deaths are included in the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS)?
NVDRS collects information about homicides, suicides, deaths by legal intervention-excluding executions-and deaths of undetermined intent. In addition, information about unintentional firearm injury deaths (i.e., the individual did not intend to discharge the firearm) is collected, although these deaths are not considered violent deaths by the above definition. Deaths are included if their underlying causes (ICD codes) are included in these categories.
Why is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collecting information about all firearm deaths?
Injuries and deaths from firearms are a significant public health problem. Behind motor vehicle injuries, firearm injuries are the second leading cause of injury mortality in the United States. Firearms are used in 69% of homicides and 51% of suicides. Knowing the full extent of all firearm injuries and deaths is crucial to state and local communities for designing and implementing effective prevention strategies to reduce future incidents. This information is useful for addressing the firearm injuries that occur in different types of violent death, such as suicides, homicides, and unintentional shootings.
How is NVDRS designed to prevent violence-related injuries and death?
NVDRS is a state-based surveillance system that links data from law enforcement, coroners and medical examiners, vital statistics, and crime laboratories to assist each participating state in designing and implementing tailored prevention and intervention efforts. NVDRS provides data on violence trends on national and regional levels; each state can access all of these important data elements from one central database.
How many violence-related injuries occur in the United States every year?
Approximately 50,000 Americans die from violence-related injuries each year in the United States. More Americans die from suicide than homicide.
Do states have to report these deaths to CDC?
State laws require that death certificates be filed for all deaths and that violent deaths, including homicides, suicides, and deaths of undetermined intent, be reviewed by a coroner or medical examiner. States that are funded for NVDRS operate under a cooperative agreement with CDC to whom all violent deaths are voluntarily reported.
Why does NVDRS collect circumstances of a violent death and what are some of the circumstances collected?
NVDRS collects circumstances of a violent death so that the death can be placed into context, hopefully giving some idea as to why it occurred. Circumstances are recorded by police, medical examiners, and coroners. For suicides, circumstances may include a history of depression or other mental health problems; recent problems with a job, finances, or relationships; or the recent death of a family member. Homicide circumstances may include recent problems with a job, finances or relationships; a family dispute; gang activity; or drugs. Information about circumstances will describe trends for specific types of violence and will help to target prevention activities
If a pregnant woman is killed, does that count as multiple deaths?
If a pregnant woman is killed, resulting in the death of the fetus, NVDRS records only one death in the incident. Fetal deaths are excluded unless the fetus was directly injured by the associated violence, survived outside the womb for a period of time, and then died as a result of the violent injury. Recording the pregnancy status of the victim is helpful for describing the frequency of different types of violence in which the victim is a pregnant woman.
Don't we already know violent death information from similar systems?
Other systems, such as vital statistics, count deaths; however, NVDRS gathers and links information from several sources, including law enforcement, medical examiners and coroners, crime laboratories, and death certificates to get more details about the circumstances of violent deaths. This incident-based system is similar to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), but NIBRS covers less of the United States and records fewer details than NVDRS. NVDRS is also different from law enforcement databases because it collects information about self-directed violence.
How does NVDRS preserve the confidentiality of death records?
Local laws that protect other types of health department records, such as communicable disease records, also apply to NVDRS files. The names of individual victims and suspects are not released. State health departments submit information to CDC only after it has been stripped of all potentially identifying details, including names, addresses, dates of birth, and agency identifiers.
Is NVDRS solely a victim-based surveillance system?
NVDRS records demographic information about perpetrators and their relationships to victims. This information is not available from victim-based systems that rely solely on death certificates.
Is NVDRS useful in tracking repeated or linked events as in the case of a serial killer? How can NVDRS be applied to terrorism?
NVDRS can identify similar incidents of violence that occur in neighboring states during a short period of time, such as the 2002 sniper-related homicides in the District of Columbia area. While completed suspect information for separate incidents may help to identify a link on the state level, the primary use of NVDRS is to gain a better understanding of the circumstances that contribute to violence and to offer potential areas to intervene. The data from NVDRS are stripped of identifiers before they are sent to CDC, eliminating the possibility of linking suspects. Deaths from acts of terrorism are included.
How does NVDRS deal with variability in data, such as different interpretations of a death between a death certificate and a coroner/medical examiner's record?
When data sources provide conflicting information about a death, states will have to decide which data source is more reliable for each data element. Any circumstantial information reported from only one major data source will always be included. CDC will monitor the frequency of conflicting data reported from data sources and will ensure that the proper standards have been consistently applied.
How and when will CDC release data collected in NVDRS?
A CDC data steward, in cooperation with a data release workgroup, clears all proposed releases whether they are for public use files or restricted access files. Data are updated annually and can be accessed online at http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars or through restricted access datasets (RADs). Datasets are considered closed and final eighteen months after the end of the calendar year in question. All RADs must be accompanied by a data sharing agreement that places restrictions on how, when, and by whom the data may be used.
What data are available through RAD that are not available in WISQARS NVDRS?
Data collected under NVDRS are intended to be used in public health practice, not research. Therefore, WISQARS NVDRS data contain general information from the 18 participating NVDRS states. This general data can help to answer questions critical to the development of effective violence prevention strategies. RAD contains data elements more specific than those available in WISQARS NVDRS. Examples include geographic identifiers, short narratives of incidents—when available from the data source-and greater specificity of demographic variables, such as age. These data do not contain personal identifiers, such as a name or street address, but they do include sensitive or potentially identifiable information. For that reason, access to RAD is restricted under the NVDRS RAD Data Release Agreement.
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