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National Violent Death Reporting System Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Which deaths are included in the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS)?

NVDRS defines a violent death as a death that results from the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or a group or community.

NVDRS collects information about violent deaths, such as homicides, suicides, and deaths where individuals are killed by law enforcement in the line of duty. In addition, NVDRS gathers information about unintentional firearm injury deaths and on deaths where the intent cannot be determined, although these deaths are not considered violent deaths by the above definition.

Deaths are included in NVDRS if their underlying causes (i.e., International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) codes) or their NVDRS abstractor assigned manner of death meets NVDRS case definitions. Examples of ICD-10 codes include:

International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision (ICD-10) codes used in the National Violent Death Reporting System
Manner of death Death ≤1 year after injury Death >1 year after injury
Intentional self-harm (suicide) X60–X84 Y87.0
Assault (homicide) X85–X99, Y00–Y09 Y87.1
Event of undetermined intent Y10–Y34 Y87.2, Y89.9
Unintentional exposure to inanimate mechanical forces (firearms) W32–W34 Y86 determined to be attributable to firearms
Legal intervention (excluding executions, Y35.5) Y35.0–Y35.4, Y35.6–Y35.7 Y89.0
Terrorism U01, U03 U02

How is NVDRS designed to prevent violence?

State and local groups can use NVDRS to better understand the magnitude, trends, and characteristics of violent death so that appropriate prevention efforts can be identified and put into place. NVDRS data can also be used in the evaluation of state-based prevention programs and strategies. To learn more, read the NVDRS Success Stories.

How many violent deaths occur in the United States every year?

Each year, approximately 59,000 violent deaths occur in the United States. More Americans die from suicide (i.e., over 42,000 people) than homicide (i.e., nearly 16,000 people). NVDRS operates in 42 states.

NVDRS’s Online Database is a reporting tool that can help you get more information on violent deaths. This tool goes beyond providing basic information, such as race, sex, and age, to providing comprehensive details on circumstances surrounding the violent death.

To learn more about NVDRS statistics, refer to the latest NVDRS Surveillance Summary.

Why does NVDRS collect circumstances of a violent death and what are some of the circumstances collected?

NVDRS seeks to address why violent deaths occurred by understanding the “who”, “when”, “where”, and “how” of violent deaths, unintentional firearm injury deaths, and deaths of undetermined intent. Circumstances are recorded by law enforcement, medical examiners, and coroners and NVDRS integrates this information so it can be used together.

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 arguments over money or property, intimate partner violence, a crime in progress such as robbery, gang activity, or drugs. Information about circumstances is important to help target prevention activities. See table below for a more detailed list of circumstances.

Circumstances preceding fatal injury, by manner of death — National Violent Death Reporting System, 2010

Suicide/Undetermined Intent

  • Current depressed mood: decedent was perceived by self or others to be depressed.
  • Current mental health problem: decedent has been identified as having a mental health disorder or syndrome listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Version IV (DSM-IV).
  • First/second type of mental illness diagnosis: identifies the DSM-IV diagnosis made by a medical or mental health practitioner.
  • Current treatment for mental illness: decedent was currently receiving mental health treatment as evidenced by a current psychotropic medication or visit to a mental health professional in the previous 2 months.
  • Alcohol/other substance problem: decedent was perceived by self or others to have a problem with, or to be addicted to, alcohol or other drugs.
  • Person left a suicide note: decedent left a note, e-mail message, video, or other communication indicating intent to die by suicide.
  • Disclosed intent to die by suicide: decedent had previously expressed suicidal feelings to another person with time for that person to intervene; disclosure only at the time of the event, with no opportunity to intervene, is not coded as “disclosed intent to commit suicide.”
  • History of suicide attempts: decedent was known to have made previous attempts, regardless of the severity of those attempts.
  • Crisis during previous 2 weeks: a very current crisis or acute precipitating event appears to have contributed to the suicide. This is designed to measure impulsivity. The crisis event must have occurred in the previous 2 weeks or be impending in the following 2 weeks (e.g., a trial for a criminal offense begins the following week).
  • Physical health problem: decedent was experiencing physical health problems that are believed to have contributed to the suicide (e.g., a recent cancer diagnosis or chronic pain).
  • Intimate partner problem: problems with a current or former intimate partner that appear to have contributed to the suicide.
  • Other relationship problem: problems with a family member, friend, or associate (other than an intimate partner) that appear to have contributed to the suicide.
  • Job problem: decedent was either experiencing a problem at work or was having a problem with joblessness.
  • School problem: decedent was experiencing a problem such as poor grades, bullying, social exclusion at school, or performance pressures.
  • Financial problem: decedent was experiencing problems such as bankruptcy, overwhelming debt, or foreclosure of a home or business.
  • Suicide of friend or family in previous 5 years: decedent was distraught over, or reacting to, a relatively recent suicide of a friend or family member.
  • Other death of friend or family in previous 5 years: decedent was distraught over, or reacting to, a relatively recent non-suicide death of a friend or family member.
  • Recent criminal legal problem: decedent was facing criminal legal problems that appear to be associated with the suicide.
  • Other legal problem: decedent was facing civil legal problems (e.g., a child custody or civil lawsuit).
  • Perpetrator of interpersonal violence in previous month: decedent perpetrated interpersonal violence (e.g., being sought by police for assault or having been issued a restraining order resulting from recent violence) during the previous month.
  • Victim of interpersonal violence in previous month: decedent was the target of interpersonal violence in the past month.

Homicide/Legal Intervention

  • Precipitated by another crime: incident occurred as the result of another serious crime.
  • Nature of crime: identifies the actual crime (e.g., robbery or drug trafficking).
  • Crime in progress: crime was in progress at the time of the death.
  • Argument over money/property: conflict between decedent and suspect was over money or property (including drugs).
  • Other argument, abuse, conflict: conflict between decedent and suspect was over something other than money, property, or drugs.
  • Jealousy (“lovers’ triangle”): jealousy or distress over an intimate partner’s relationship or suspected relationship with another person led to the homicide.
  • Intimate-partner violence–related: homicide is related to conflict between current or former intimate partners; includes the death of actual intimate partners and non-intimate partner decedents killed to cause pain to an intimate partner (e.g., child or parent).
  • Drug involvement: drug dealing or illegal drug use is suspected to have played a role in precipitating the homicide.
  • Gang-related: homicide is suspected to have resulted from gang activity or gang rivalry; not used if the decedent was a gang member but the homicide did not appear to result from gang activity.
  • Hate crime: decedent was intentionally selected because of his/her actual or perceived gender, religion, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, or disability.
  • Brawl: mutual physical fight involving three or more persons.
  • Decedent was a bystander: decedent was not directly involved in the incident.
  • Decedent was a police officer on duty: a law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty.
  • Decedent was an intervener assisting a crime victim: decedent was attempting to assist a crime victim at the time of the incident (e.g., a child attempts to intervene and is killed while trying to assist a parent who is being assaulted).
  • Mercy killing: the decedent wished to die because of terminal or hopeless disease or condition, and documentation indicates that the decedent wanted to be killed.

Unintentional Firearm Death

  • Hunting: death occurred anytime after leaving home for a hunting trip and before returning home from a hunting trip; the shooting need not have been during an active hunt to be coded.
  • Target shooting: a shooter was aiming for a target and unintentionally hit a person; can be at a shooting range or an informal backyard setting.
  • Self-defensive shooting: self-inflicted shooting in which the decedent was attempting to use a gun in self-defense.
  • Celebratory firing: shooter fired the gun upward in a celebratory manner with no intention of threatening or endangering others.
  • Loading/unloading gun: firearm discharged when the shooter was loading/unloading ammunition.
  • Cleaning gun: firearm discharged when the shooter was cleaning the gun.
  • Showing gun to others: showing the gun to another person when the gun discharged or the trigger was pulled.
  • Playing with gun: the shooter and one or more others were playing with a gun.
  • Thought safety was engaged: shooter thought the gun was inoperable because the safety was engaged.
  • Thought unloaded/magazine disengaged: shooter thought the gun was unloaded because the magazine was disengaged.
  • Thought gun was unloaded/other: shooter thought the gun was unloaded for other unspecified reason.
  • Unintentionally pulled trigger: shooter unintentionally pulled the trigger (e.g., while grabbing the gun or holding it too tightly).
  • Bullet ricochet: bullet ricocheted from its intended target and unintentionally struck the decedent.
  • Gun defect or malfunction: gun had a defect or malfunctioned as determined by a trained firearm examiner.
  • Fired while holstering/unholstering: gun was being replaced or removed from holster/clothing.
  • Dropped gun: gun discharged when it was dropped or when something was dropped on it.
  • Fired while operating safety/lock: shooter unintentionally fired the gun while operating the safety lock.
  • Gun mistaken for toy: gun was mistaken for a toy and was fired without the user understanding the danger.

What weapon information is collected by NVDRS?

NVDRS collects data on mechanisms leading to injury, including:

  • Firearm: method that uses a powder charge to fire a projectile
  • Sharp instrument: knife, razor, machete, or pointed instrument (e.g., chisel or broken glass)
  • Blunt instrument: club, bat, rock, or brick
  • Poisoning: street drug, alcohol, pharmaceutical, carbon monoxide, gas, rat poison, or insecticide
  • Hanging/strangulation/suffocation: hanging by the neck, manual strangulation, or plastic bag over the head
  • Personal weapons: hands, fists, or feet
  • Fall: being pushed or jumping
  • Drowning: inhalation of liquid in bathtub, lake, or other source of water/liquid
  • Fire/burn: inhalation of smoke or the direct effects of fire or chemical burns
  • Shaking: shaking a baby, child, or adult
  • Motor vehicle: car, bus, or motorcycle
  • Other transport vehicle: train or airplane
  • Intentional neglect: starvation, lack of adequate supervision, or withholding of health care
  • Other: any method other than those listed above
  • Unknown: method not reported or not known

NVDRS collects more detailed information on firearms and poisons, such as the type of firearm or substance involved. These data are obtained from law enforcement, coroner and medical examiner, and toxicology reports.

What makes NVDRS unique?

Other data systems mainly count deaths and provide basic demographic information. In contrast—

  • NVDRS gathers and links detailed investigative information from several sources, including law enforcement, medical examiners and coroners, toxicology, and death certificates. With this linked information, NVDRS is able to provide a more complete picture of the circumstances that may contribute to a violent death.
  • NVDRS combines deaths that occurred during the same violent event to help identify circumstances of multiple homicides or homicides followed by the suicide of the homicide suspect.
  • NVDRS collects information on the suspect and the relationship of the victim to the suspect to better characterize homicides.
  • NVDRS data allows for the analysis of emerging issues. Recently, NVDRS has been used to examine

How can NVDRS data be obtained?

Descriptive data can be accessed free of charge from NCIPC’s Web-based Injury Statistics and Query System (WISQARS). This Online Database for NVDRS is a reporting tool that can help you get more information on violent deaths. This tool goes beyond providing basic information, such as race, sex, and age, to providing comprehensive details on circumstances surrounding the violent death.

More detailed data from the NVDRS Restricted Access Database (RAD) is available by request for users meeting certain eligibility criteria public health research. All RAD proposals must be accompanied by a data sharing agreement that places restrictions on how, when, and by whom the data may be used.

Can NVDRS be used to look at homicides followed by suicides and mass shootings?

NVDRS is an incident-based system, which means it is able to link deaths that occurred during the same violent event to help identify the circumstances of multiple homicides or homicides followed by suicides.

How does NVDRS preserve the confidentiality of death records?

State health departments submit information to CDC only after it has been stripped of all potentially identifying details, including names, addresses, and dates of birth. The names of individual victims and suspects are not released at the state-level. Local laws that protect other types of health department records, such as communicable disease records, also apply to NVDRS files.

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.

What states collect NVDRS data?

CDC received funding to create NVDRS in 2002. NVDRS currently operates in 42 states/territories.. These states receive cooperative agreements through the CDC.

Continued development and expansion of NVDRS will allow CDC to provide information for every state to inform their prevention efforts. It will also ensure we have enhanced information on the national scope of the problem of violent deaths to monitor and track trends and to inform national violence prevention efforts.

How come my state does not have a violent death reporting system?

Cooperative agreements were awarded to the states that applied and successfully competed for available funding.

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