Webinar presenter BJ Spamer answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Promising Practices in Missing and Unidentified Person Case Investigations. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: So, we have a couple of folks asking about the available availability of NamUs for Canada. Specifically, are Canadian law enforcement officers able to gain access to the law enforcement side? And kind of as a second part is, are you looking at sharing any information between the two countries?
B.J. Spamer: That’s an excellent question. Currently, however, professional access to NamUs currently is limited to the United States law enforcement agencies. So, we would not be able to grant professional access to Canadian law enforcement. I will say our regional program specialists work very closely with their colleagues at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Missing Person Clearinghouse that they have there, and with local law enforcement in Canada. So, if there are specific cases that need comparisons, our regional program specialist team is always there to support that.
Audience Question: Renee is a Deputy Director of Emergency Services and she’s wanting to know more about whether there are things in place post-disaster for identifying and reconciling missing persons. And again, I think that might be related to the critical incident functionality that you’re building out.
B.J. Spamer: Yes, Renee. I think the NamUs for Critical Incident System is something you’ll be very interested in. So, if you would go to that website and sign up for updates. The purpose of that system is primarily going to be to help with the victim accounting and reporting and identification. So, comparing those missing to the unidentified and getting real-time statistics on who’s unaccounted for and how many cases are outstanding. That is the goal of that. What we call NCI, NamUs for critical incidents. So, on that website is a lot more information and that link to register and that’ll put you in direct contact with the folks that are working on NCI.
Audience Question: Can you speak to your forensic odontology units’ capability and the average turnaround time for analysis?
B.J. Spamer: Oh, wow, that’s a good question. I do not have average time from turnaround time for analysis, although, I will say that there really is not a backlog for NamUs forensic odontology work. They will code and classify and upload your dental records. I wish I hadn’t looked past that slide because I had a slide on odontology and I was worried I would run out of time. One of the other things that they actively assist with is collecting dental information for military personnel. So, very similar to the DNA cards. We have a close relationship with the military record repository. So, they can assist with gathering all of the dental information for military veterans as well, and getting that information classified, coded, uploaded to NamUs. They’ll also complete your NCIC dental worksheet, so you’ll have accurate NCIC dental codes to update that entry as well. As far as turnaround time, we don’t really have a backlog. So, they’re able to get results back relatively quickly.
Audience Question: Does NamUs require that the missing person be a US citizen? For example, if the person is known to be an undocumented migrant, can they be included in NamUs?
B.J. Spamer: That’s a great question, and absolutely as long as there is a US nexus to the case, and there is a US law enforcement agency that’s investigating the case and can verify it for us and give us permission to publish that information and name as we can get that case information into the system and dedicate all of the resources that I talked about today. So, it doesn’t matter if it’s a US citizen missing on US soil, foreign citizen missing on US soil. We even have cases of US citizens who have gone missing abroad, but there is that US nexus. Those cases can be entered.
Audience Question: Thomas wants to know whether or not there’s any work going on at the Federal level that would mandate the entry of all missing persons and unidentified remains into NamUs. Again, at the federal national level.
B.J. Spamer: There has been in years past there have been some bills introduced to lobby for that Federal legislation. Those did not pass. So, there is currently, to my knowledge, there is no federal effort currently in place. What we have found instead is that we’re seeing the push for a state by state legislation, because we are seeing that the needs of different states do vary a bit. So, maybe it’s that there was no one size fits all federal legislation that works for all states. We’re seeing the statewide initiatives really leading to some positive change because the state like New York has a volume of cases and resourcing that’s different from, say a state like Tennessee that’s passed a law that says all of their missing persons are entered within 30 days because they don’t receive as many missing person cases. So, I think that might be part of the reason that we’re seeing more progress on the state level than a one size fits all federal statute.
Audience Question: Why are tribal law enforcement agencies not automatically enrolled for access into NCIC?
B.J. Spamer: You know, that is a bit outside of my area of expertise. I think if you talk to the Department of Justice Tribal Access Program, I think they could answer that better. I don’t know what the limitations or the challenges are for all tribes to have access to NCIC. But that TAP Program and that website that’s in your handout might answer some of those questions.
Audience Question: Are there any efforts being made to cross-check case information in that Doe network with the information in NamUs?
B.J. Spamer: I know there are some volunteers from the Doe Network who will make sure that all of the cases that are on file with the Doe Network are entered into NamUs. So, there’s a fabulous volunteer community out there that does help with some of that cross walking there is not a direct connection. So, I will say we rely upon volunteers and law enforcement, and the family members to get that case information entered into NamUs.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Promising Practices in Missing and Unidentified Person Case Investigations.