I just finished listening to a webinar given by Todd Matthews. Todd Matthews is the Director of Communications and Case Management for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons Systems at the University of North Texas Health Sciences Center. I just refer to him as the Guardian Angel of the Missing; the title is shorter and easier to remember. The focus of Matthew’s talk was about the current legislation that went into effect in Tennessee which requires all missing and unidentified remains be entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons Systems (NamUs) within 30 days of a person’s disappearance or the location of unidentified remains. The concept of the system is very simple. If everyone enters the missing persons details and everyone enters the unidentified remains there should be some matches. Also, it allows police agencies to search online. To search, a person simply enters their search criteria and the system searches for remains which fit the criteria. The system is very simple to use. The more information available and entered into the system the more likely remains fitting the entered criteria will match an entered missing person.
So now I am going to break your heart. This system, which is very effective, easy to use and if you have a computer it is available to you free of charge, is not used by the vast majority of police agencies in the United States—even those with missing persons cases and unidentified remains. According to NamUs, 93% of police agencies do NOT use NamUs. Just a reminder, this system is paid for by taxpayer dollars. There are a lot of reasons police agencies do not use the system. I believe the major reason is just plain ignorance. They aren’t even aware the system exists or they believe it is burdensome. Creating the initial case may take some time, but I have used the NamUs system and I have not found it burdensome at all. That’s right, I have used NamUs. The system is not for law enforcement only. Once the case is verified by law enforcement, they no longer need to manage the online account. It can be managed by a family member, a friend, an organization, etc., thus removing the burden from the police agency.
I know of only three states—New York, Connecticut and now, Tennessee—which require the use of NamUs. Let me reiterate, NamUs is free, easy to use and effective. Here is the horror in case you don’t think this is a big deal: someone’s loved one could be lying right now in a medical examiner’s office, the morgue or an unmarked grave because someone could not spare the “valuable time” to enter the unidentified remains or the description of a missing person in a system that is free, easy to use and effective.
You certainly don’t have to believe me. Here is the website, check out NamUs for yourself.
The Federal Act, The Help for the Missing Act, HR3695, would have required all police agencies and medical examiners’ offices to enter missing persons and unidentified remains into the NamUs system, as well as coordinate with NCIC (National Crime Information Center.) The act was passed by the House of Representatives in 2010 and did not survive the Senate. It never became law.
If a person goes missing or unidentified remains are found it should be “hit or miss” if the individual is entered into an effective data base. It shouldn’t be the “luck of the draw” that a person goes missing in one of those 7% of police agencies that use the NamUs system.
How big of a problem is this? According to the NCIC, as of December 2016 there were 88,040 outstanding missing person cases. And remember, since reporting is not required, the number is much higher than that. If missing people were a disease if would be an epidemic.
If you are interested in how your state can make it law to require reporting of the missing or identified remains, please feel free to contact me. I will point you in the right direction. The model legislation used by the current Tennessee law is available online. (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/help-needed-find-missing-act-billys-law-state-level-maureen-reintjes) and is a good place to start. There are also plenty of volunteer organizations, such as the Doe Network, who could use your help, too. If our lawmakers aren’t going to do it, it is us to us. Let’s bring them home.