California's Electronic Violent Death Reporting System (CalEVDRS)
To better understand the circumstances and the risk factors that lead to violent deaths in California through the use of innovative, efficient data collection from the richest data sources on violent deaths.
From 2005 through 2008, California was one of 17 states participating in the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), funded by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Under NVDRS, we contracted with county health departments to collect data on violent deaths from four data sources – death certificates, coroner/medical examiner records, police reports, and crime laboratory records. Traditionally, public health tries to understand these deaths by analyzing death certificates alone, which describe the victim but tell little about the circumstances. To get a more complete picture of each death, NVDRS takes advantage of all data sources available.
During its four years of data collection, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) compiled detailed information on circumstances of more than 10,000 violent deaths, including homicides and suicides. With the participation of Alameda, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Shasta Counties, we have valuable information on approximately half the state’s violent deaths during this time. This information can be used to inform violence prevention policies in California.
Unfortunately, due to its size, decentralized government, privacy concerns and lack of resources among law enforcement agencies, California was unable to obtain law enforcement records required by NVDRS and could not reapply for funding. Fortunately, CDPH had realized this incompatibility early on in the NVDRS grant and, in its commitment to expand this valuable program statewide, secured funding to develop CalEVDRS, a more practical model than the labor-intensive NVDRS.
CalEVDRS took advantage of California’s Electronic Death Registration System (CA-EDRS), created in 2005 to allow counties to file death certificates online instead of mailing paper forms. Using funds from The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, we created a violent death supplement to death certificates in CA-EDRS, which captures information from coroners on violent death. To ensure a smooth transition from NVDRS, CalEVDRS data elements were created according to NVDRS specifications and can be transmitted to NVDRS if CDC desires them. Law enforcement data for homicides are linked using Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR) from the California Department of Justice.
Given their commitment to violence prevention, The California Wellness Foundation (TCWF) funded us to continue developing this system by allowing us to pay coroners to complete this supplement. As of 2010, fourteen counties are contributing data to this system, boosting our multi-source data on violent deaths to approximately 57% of the state's total and two-thirds of all homicides in California. We are also using these funds to improve CA-EDRS so that counties can transfer data electronically from any software to CA-EDRS, instead of entering data directly into CA-EDRS. This could increase participation even more and limit the cost of doing so.
Data on the most common risk factors for violent deaths will be valuable to inform legislators, public health professionals, community leaders, and violence prevention advocates and allow them to make sound data-informed decisions.
- Local health departments, county coroners, law enforcement agencies, and the California Department of Justice, who all provide data and will benefit from learning more about violent deaths in their communities.
- CA-EDRS is a key partner as we utilize this system to collect our data and fund improvements to the system.
- The California Wellness Foundation, who funds our project and uses the data to inform its violence prevention grant making decisions.
- The California Research Bureau of the State Library, who is helping promote the value of this system to legislative staff.
- Advocacy groups will be key partners as data are analyzed and used to make policy recommendations to prevent these deaths.
Since 2006, CalEVDRS has:
- Utilized California's Electronic Death Registration System (CA-EDRS) to build an efficient web-based electronic violent death reporting system using NVDRS data specifications.
- Expanded data collection from 6 to 14 counties, potentially capturing detailed information on two-thirds of all homicides in California and more than half of all violent deaths.
- Presented data at the Department of Defense/Veteran Affairs Joint Suicide Prevention Conference and the American Association of Suicidology Annual Conference in 2009.
- Provided data to agencies such as: California Department of Mental Health for the state Suicide Prevention Strategic Plan, Sacramento County Mental Health Department, California Office of Gang and Youth Violence Policy, California Research Bureau, and various county health departments.
- Used its progress to promote this system among data providers and other agencies throughout the state.
For more information, contact Steve Wirtz at (916) 552-9831 or Steve.Wirtz@cdph.ca.gov