NamUs Missing Person Database Goes Unused by 93 Percent of Law Enforcement

Is anyone surprised by this news?  No. Because we still have a police culture so set in its ways that they’d prefer to rely on memory, scratch pads and file boxes to solve problems when more than adequate tools are practically begging for utilization. Tools that could save lives:

PC News by David Murphy

Since 2009, families and medical examiners have had access to a free online database that’s designed to assist in the identification of more than 40,000 sets of unidentified remains across the country. Dubbed “NamUs,” short for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, the program allows both parties to enter identifying characteristics of a missing person or unidentified body in the hopes that this information exchange will help match a face to a fate.

It’s a grim consolation for those whose friends or families have been affected by violence or accidents. Nevertheless, the Associated Press reports that the free service has helped solved 16 cases since the cross-matching feature went live in July of last year. The numbers don’t end there: the service is home to around 6,200 unidentified sets of remains, 2,800 missing people, and–according to The Crime Report–has been accessed (on the missing persons front) by more than 185,000 people as of January 2009.

What’s the problem? According to the AP, only 1,100 of the nation’s 17,000 law enforcement agencies, or 6.5 percent, are registered with the service. That’s partly a publicity issue, as numerous law enforcement agencies simply don’t know the service exists. Others are more leery about using limited resources to participate in the service.

That doesn’t sit well with Janice Smolinski, sponsor of the “Billy’s Law” bill that aims to encourage wider use of the NamUs system. If passed–it’s already received House approval and remains pending in the Senate–the bill would generate $10 million in annual grants for law enforcement agencies to both train new users and help them resource the data entry process of adding new details to the system. The bill would also allow for an annual grant of $2.4 million to keep NamUS, as a whole, up-and-running.

As for how the system actually works, NamUs profiles are rated based on a one-to-five star system. A one-star profile contains scant details about a person: perhaps a name, or the location where they disappeared, but that’s it. A five-star profile is the whole kit-and-caboodle, with a full swath of details and identifying characteristics, as well as a picture or rendering of a person’s likely image.

According to The Crime Report, there’s currently no mandate that forces law enforcement to database details about a 21-or-over missing adult. Billy’s Law won’t change that aspect of the system, but it will allow the database to link up with the National Crime Information Center Missing and Unidentified Person File database in hopes that this could increase the detail of NamUS profiles (or, conversely, fill out the system with more.) Similarly, law enforcement will be required to submit missing persons reports for children (21-and-under) to the NamUs database.

For Smolinski, the legislative victory would be bittersweet. She remains confident that the NamUs database will give her the details she needs to close her own case–that of her son, Billy, who went missing in Connecticut in 2004.

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4 thoughts on “NamUs Missing Person Database Goes Unused by 93 Percent of Law Enforcement”

  1. I was surprised by this news, and I’ll tell you why.

    Because the Carrboro Police were quick to respond when asked (by Todd Mathews through me) to submit dental records of Debbie K to the NamUs database.

    Why a small town police department would be so far ahead of PD’s around the country is beyond my understanding.

  2. No, not surprised. Disappointed, yes.

    When Todd Matthews asked me in January 2008 to be one of the volunteer data entry people on his ‘new project’ I thought, “Wow, what a great idea.” It was just in the beta testing stage, but the idea of a national missing and unidentified persons database (that would possibly encompass all of North America) sounded like a good project to be working on. When NamUs finally got up and running, I was very proud. After reading your blog post, John, I went back to read the email that Todd wrote me two years ago. This was his last sentence: “…build a 400-pound gorilla and see if they can ignore it.” Well, apparently, some do…unfortunately.

  3. ‘Anon’ – So nice to hear from you again!
    I missed reading your comments in here, and I’m sure we all did.

    I was proud too, when NamUs took off, even though my contribution to it was limited to one case. It was with great pleasure that I emailed the link to my contacts with Carrboro PD, after Todd sent it to me.

    After reading Theresa’s story for the first time, I felt so grateful that I am able to communicte so freely with the police involved in Debbie’s case, who regard me with the respect that I think John should be getting from the SQ.

    So now it seems I have another reason to be proud of our local PD. I hope I never take it for granted!

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