Governor Cuomo Signs Otis/Savino Missing Persons Bill

Legislation to require that reports of missing children and adults filed in New York be transmitted to the National Missing and Unidentified Remains System (NamUs) was signed into law by the Governor on November 29. The legislation, A8286B/S6739, was sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Otis (91st AD, Westchester County) and Senator Diane Savino (23rd SD, Staten Island).

The bill will 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 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 after the child or adult has been reported missing. To effectively implement the provisions of this legislation there is an agreement to make technical changes in a chapter amendment in the new legislative session.

Assemblyman Otis stated, “This new law will enhance our ability to locate missing persons by making sure missing person information is shared with the NamUs database. Governor Cuomo’s approval builds upon the legislation we passed last year which has already helped identify missing individuals and is being adopted in other states. These measures help law enforcement agencies in the resolution of missing person cases.”

Said Senator Savino, “Last year Assemblyman Otis and I passed a law requiring medical examiners and coroners to send all unidentified human remains and forensic evidence to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, NamUs. Just one month after Governor Cuomo signed that bill into law, NamUs personnel successfully identified a male body and his family was finally able to find relief and closure. Our new law will require police reports of missing persons to also be conveyed to the NamUs database. This additional information will go another step further to assist law enforcement’s ability to locate missing persons. I applaud Assemblyman Otis for his continued hard work on this issue and thank him for sponsoring the legislation with me.”

The importance of NamUs was brought to the attention of the legislators by Jan Burke, the critically acclaimed mystery author and founder of the not-for-profit Crime Lab Project, who has become an advocate for missing persons and police forensic issues after researching these issues for her books.

NamUs officials expressed delight over passage of the legislation. “Once again New York has set an example in the recognition of missing and unidentified persons. A very important step forward.” said J. Todd Matthews, Case Management and Communications Director of NamUs.