By Deputy Coroner Investigator David Van Norman, Unidentified Persons Coordinator
CRITICAL FIRST STEP:
The first step is the most critical: The missing loved one MUST be reported missing to a law enforcement agency, and that agency MUST enter the record into NCIC (the National Crime Information Center). This must happen IMMEDIATELY. Federal law prohibits the establishment of a waiting period to report someone missing. I don’t care if the person was last seen walking out the door ten minutes ago- they are gone now!
There is a “logic convention” in law enforcement that the person should be reported missing to the agency with jurisdiction over the place of residence. The reasoning seems to be that a person is likely to return to familiar locations, such as home. However, serious consideration should be given to the location that the person was last seen – particularly if the story is that the person was seen being bundled into the back seat of a blacked-out Mafia car! In California Penal Code 14205 is specific: “All local police and sheriffs' departments shall accept any report of a missing person, including runaways, without delay and shall give priority to the handling of these reports over the handling of reports relating to crimes involving property… the reports shall be submitted within four hours after acceptance to NCIC via CLETS.” Technically that means that it doesn’t matter whether the person was never in California, and was last seen on the Space Shuttle! If the phone rings at a police station in California, and a person is missing, the report should be taken. It doesn’t matter if little Jenny has just run away for the 10th time – for all we know, this time she ran straight into the arms of Jack the Ripper! The family will encounter some typical law enforcement attitudes: “There is no law against being missing!” True, but there isn’t any law against taking the report – and in fact, at least in California, there is a law against NOT taking the report! “There is no evidence that anything bad has happened.” True, but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence! Since Jenny is missing we have no reason to believe she is safe, either. Unless the investigator believes that she is in the Penthouse Suite at the local Holiday Inn, eating bon-bons and sipping ice tea, then she is probably living on the streets with every ****-**** ******* in society trolling like sharks for little girls just like her! Take the report and get the information broadcasting in NCIC!
Nothing happens without the NCIC record. The NCIC computer chugs away all night long looking for matches between unidentified and missing person records. If a possible match is found between two records, a teletype is sent to both agencies. We receive approximately 1,500 of these match-ups per year for San Bernardino’s 250 long term unidentified person cases. It is then up to the agencies to compare the identifier records, IF they were collected.
If one or the other record is not in NCIC, there IS NO WAY TO MATCH THEM TOGETHER!