Assemblyman Otis Announces Passage of Bill to Help Find Missing Persons

June 22, 2017

Assemblyman Steve Otis (D-Rye) announced passage in both houses of his bill that would require that reports of missing children and adults filed in New York be transmitted to the National Missing and Unidentified Remains System (NamUs). Otis sponsored the legislation with Senator Diane Savino (D-IP-WP-Staten Island) who won passage in the Senate on June 19. The bill, A8286B/S3769, would promote more comprehensive sharing of missing persons data to aid law enforcement in the resolution of such cases and help families dealing with the heartbreak of a missing loved one.

The United States Department of Justice created NamUs to address the staggering number of human remains that go unidentified each year. In 2016, New York became the first state in the nation to require that all medical examiners and coroners report unidentified remains to the NamUs database through legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Otis and Senator Savino. Other states are now following this lead. Tennessee recently passed legislation that would require not only the reporting of unidentified remains, but also information about all missing persons. NamUs officials stress that this additional reporting requirement will increase their ability to locate missing persons.

Current New York law requires that reports of missing children and adults be shared with the Federal Bureau of Information’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) register, but does not require the transmission of such reports to NamUs. Unlike the NCIC, however, the information stored in NamUs can be accessed directly by family members and the public, not just law enforcement agencies. Family members can even submit additional identifying information about their missing loved ones. As a result, NamUs has become the database that families rely on in their search for missing relatives.

Law enforcement agencies retain the right to withhold sensitive information from public view, as well as information that is part of an active investigation, when they submit a report to NamUs. Under the bill, reports of a missing person will be transmitted to NamUs no later than 30 days after the child or adult has been reported missing.

Assemblyman Otis stated, “Few situations cause as much anguish and uncertainty than a loved one who has gone missing. By making information about missing persons more widely available through the NamUs database, this bill greatly increases the chance that a missing person will be located and reunited with family. It will also assist law enforcement agencies in the resolution of missing person’s cases.”

Said Senator Savino, “The law Assemblyman Otis and I passed in 2016 requiring medical examiners and coroners to transfer physical remains and other forensic data to NamUs, has already been a success. An adult male, whose body was found in April 2016, was positively identified by a NamUs Administrator in August, one month after the bill was signed into law. This new legislation to add police missing persons reports to NamUs will further enhance this comprehensive national database not only to identify the deceased, but also to assist locating missing persons who may still be found alive.”

Jan Burke, the critically acclaimed author and founder of the not-for-profit Crime Lab Project who first brought the issue to the attention of Assemblyman Otis, stated “New York's historic passage of legislation last year requiring that unidentified remains to be reported to NamUs has already proven its value to the families of the missing, and served as a model for legislation in other states. With the passage of this new law, A8286-B/S 6739, the other side of the missing persons equation is included, and will undoubtedly lead to answers for the families, friends, and communities, as well as the solving of cold cases. Those of us who are working to end America's "Silent Mass Disaster" thank the State of New York, and especially Assemblyman Steve Otis and Senator Diane Savino for their leadership on this issue.”

NamUs officials expressed delight over passage of the legislation. "It was my honor to provide counsel once again for New York setting another example for the nation to follow, said J. Todd Matthews, Case Management and Communications Director of NamUs. “From the bright lights of New York to the hills of Tennessee, across the plains of Texas from sea to shining sea; New York should be very proud."