1/9/06 A Simple Question for Law Enforcement
If the missing person is between the ages of 0 and 17, give the contact information for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) 1-800-THE-LOST www.missingkids.com
If the missing person is age 18 or above, give the contact information for the National Center for Missing Adults (NCMA) 1-800-690-FIND www.theyaremissed.org
I suspect this does not happen nearly as often as it should. In a perfect world, it would happen 100% of the time. I would even accept if it could happen 75% of the time, although I would still want to improve this, and find ways to do it.
Why is this important?
Almost all persons who are faced with having a missing loved one do not know where to start, or what to do. Precious time is wasted if they think there isn't much they can do, or if their efforts are misguided.
Law Enforcement (LE) is not a "one-stop shopping center" when it comes to doing legwork on a missing person's case. They aren't going to start a diary of all calls, hang posters, assist you with an awareness event, or any number of steps that you should take. By the time a friend or co-worker suggests a reputable resource two weeks later, it may be too late.
I know that sounds very harsh, but it is true. What happens in the beginning and the steps taken by both LE and the family are critical. If LE doesn't give the family a resource, then their odds of success decrease. LE and the family are a team, with the family cooperating with LE as they probe into the family and missing person's background and any evidence so they can handle the investigation.
How often does this happen?
For the most part, when speaking to families of the missing nationwide, and asking them if LE gave them a referral, we find they did not. More often, in children's cases, one will be given, but it is rare in adult cases. No, this is not scientific data, but what I will present next certainly qualifies.
Jason's Law, which we passed last year, mandated the creation of a missing person's clearinghouse in Nebraska to cover both adult and child cases. Currently, there are 410 cases on the website. Out of those 410, 6 cases are registered with NCMEC and 4 with NCMA. That's a total of 10 cases out of 410 listed. That tells me that in 97% of the cases, the families are NOT given a referral. This is unacceptable.
I understand that it may be possible that some families are given the referral and do nothing with it, but do you really think that's a large percentage? I don't think so. I can't imagine not making a toll free phone call to try to get any and all help possible for a missing loved one.
I don't know if the percentage will be as high in your state. You will not have a way to know unless you have access to data about the total of open missing person's cases in your state and then compare it to the number of cases shown in NCMEC and NCMA.
Who can make this change?
This is not the fault of the state. This error lies in local LE's hands. They must add it as a part of the written procedure that covers taking a missing person's report. It is so important that I added it to the state model legislation that we are trying to get passed in each state in our Campaign for the Missing 2006.
In the meantime, we can make an impact on this issue. I want you to think about something. I want you to put yourself in our shoes, and imagine your loved one is missing and you must call LE and make a report. Imagine NOT being given that resource. Your heart is pounding and your stomach is tied in knots as your fears for your missing loved one grow stronger as the hands on the clock tick away, oblivious to your pain. You don't know where to turn or what to do. You need someone NOW to be a calming voice and tell you. You sure can't think straight on your own. You need help.
In the perfect world, you take a deep breath and pick up the phone. You dial the number the officer gave you. Soon you will be talking with someone who can help; someone who can give you those first steps to take.
In order to get closer to the perfect world scenario, we need people who will be willing to make a couple of phone calls. Call your local police department and your county's sheriffs department. Ask them if this is a policy when taking a missing person's report. Explain to them why it is important and ask them to please consider it.
Be thankful you are not calling them to report your loved one as missing. Think of as a free insurance policy that you are asking them to put into place. It could be you, after all, making that frightening call, and needing the help.