After the Webinar: Missing Person & Unidentified Persons. Q&A with NamUs’ BJ Spamer

Webinar presenter BJ Spamer from NamUs answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Using NamUs to Resolve Missing & Unidentified Persons in Indigenous Person Cases. Here are just a few of her responses.


Audience Question: Our first question is actually from one of our presenters, it’s from Thomas Hargrove of the Murder Accountability Project and he says, “we just released a report that half of all native American homicides from 1999 to 2017 were not reported to the FBI.” He’s wondering if you’ve ever done a study to examine or estimate the number of missing person cases that have not been reported to NamUs either or both for all missing persons and specifically for native Americans? 

BJ Spamer: That is an excellent question and that’s a very interesting research project that I’ll look up as well. We have not done a similar project for missing persons at this point in time but we do have created a research unit this year. Our first project as I’ve mentioned is the study: Violence against women. Between our research and our analytical unit, we have a lot of projects that are planned toward the next year and potentially we could look at statistics and cases that are reported to NamUs versus other agencies. So we’ve not done a project like that to date but that would be an excellent endeavor.



Audience Question: He also just so you know and I can put you all in touch with each other. He’d love to work with you. He worked closely at the FBI and a number of law enforcement agencies. He’d like to talk to you about possibly downloading some portions of the NamUs data set for now. Our next question is from Christine. If you initially register as a public user but then you go into a law enforcement job, are you able to change your registration type? 

BJ Spamer: Absolutely. So contact if you are registered as the public user, you just need to contact your Regional Program Specialist and they’ll actually be listed when your user profile so when you log in, you’ll see the name, telephone number, and e-mail address for your RPS. If you’ll contact them and give them your agency and your sponsor, they can reach out and get you verified and get you upgraded to a professional access account.



Audience Question: Our next question is from Kira. Kira says that she worked for police service in Canada and had used NamUs to search missing person database based on the decedent located in Ontario. We ended up at the positive identification by searching on the NamUs database. I tried to register as a police law enforcement but as a Canadian was not possible. Her question is will it change to allow Canadian law enforcement to register as a professional user so we can have access to those additional details? 

BJ Spamer: This time the NamUs professional registration is open only to US law enforcement agencies but our regional program specialists do collaborate with sister organizations across the borders to do those case comparisons but at this point in time we do only allow US law enforcement agencies to register for professional account.



Audience Question: Our next question is coming in from Maureen. Will the ability for the public to see DNA, dental, and fingerprint records be available again? 

BJ Spamer: That question comes because in the older version of NamUs, there were some checkboxes and radio buttons that would indicate to the public that DNA was available or fingerprints were available. The challenge we have with that is there are so many nuances to the biometrics that even though DNA may be available, it may not be a complete DNA profile that’s useful for comparison and the reason that information is now in professional view only is because we didn’t want to eliminate tips. We didn’t want public users to see through cases that could potentially be matches and assume that they’ve already been compared if they saw that DNA was available. So we were trying to eliminate some of that issue and have all of those tips recorded to NamUs so that we make sure we’re not missing any of those. So that’s why the dental, DNA, fingerprint– some of that information is law enforcement sensitive, others it’s just such nuanced information that we didn’t want users to misunderstand what was or was not available so that we’ll remain in professional view only.


Audience Question: Next question is from Terry. Do NamUs’ RPSs work with tribal law enforcement and advocates to enter missing or unidentified cases? 

BJ Spamer: They do. The Regional Program Specialist team is there to support agencies, NGOs, families with any cases that are reported to NamUs. If there were cases that were not entered into the NamUs database and maybe the family doesn’t have access to the internet, we have a toll-free line or the regional program specialist can take that information from them over the telephone. So one way or another will get that case information from those families and get those cases into the database. So I encourage you to reach out to your RPS if there’s a case that they can support you with.



Audience Question: Just a few more questions. What is the difference between NamUs and NCMEC, How are you different? What services are different and how do you work together? 

BJ Spamer: We have a very close relationship with NCMEC. All of the missing juveniles that are entered into NamUs, we do notify the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. If they have a case well, we’re not duplicating efforts. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children or NCMEC are users of NamUs. They exclusively handle missing juvenile cases. They have poster partner programs where they distribute posters of missing children across the United States. They have a ton of resources for missing juvenile cases. NamUs supports juvenile and adult cases. Our goal is to again create that central repository for all missing and unidentified whether they are juveniles or adults.



Audience Question: Next question is more of a comment. David asks, “Have you considered any victim-family conferences to bring victim-families together in a single event?” 

BJ Spamer: That’s a great question and that’s in line with some other works that we are dealing right now to create a victim services unit for NamUs so we are  currently in our discovery phase and reaching out to find out what resources are already available from OVC, and OVW and some of the tribes and BIA have their own victim services and we’ll be looking at attending some of the victim services conferences and learning more and finding out what resources do we need to create at NamUs and what do we need to compile into a network that we can refer others to. So we will definitely be attending some of these conferences and again one of the programs that we are trying to develop is a peer-to-peer support network for families so I think that question about victim-family conferences is very much in line with what we’re trying to do right now.



Audience Question: We have a couple of people, Karen and Erica, in particular, who are asking how could one become more involved with NamUs either on a volunteer or employment basis?

BJ Spamer:  All of the NamUs staff are staff of the UNT Health Science Center so we occasionally have NamUs positions that we post through the UNT health science center career site and what we ask most beneficial for victim advocates is to help us raise awareness. Raise awareness especially within the tribal communities, with tribal law enforcement, with families. We want to make sure that they all know that these are resources for them. NamUs offers resources for every missing person case across the country and I think for victim advocates and those who want to volunteer, that’s the most powerful way that you can help NamUs in this issue of MMIW and just missing indigenous persons in general. Getting the word out there, helping to raise awareness that these tools do exist and it’s never too late. We see fingerprints. I talked about fingerprint identification that dated back to 1971. We’ve had DNA identifications dating back to the 1950s. If there is still a searching family member, it is never too late for them to find answers. We want to do whatever we can to help them find NamUs. So if victim advocates can help us in that way, raising awareness. If you’re out there in the victim advocacy community and you’re hearing from families who have a missing loved one and you see that case is not in NamUs, encourage that family to come to NamUs and get that case entered.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Using NamUs to Resolve Missing & Unidentified Persons in Indigenous Person Cases.



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