November 4, 2009 — A unified nationwide system to track the missing?

It’s true that at present there is no ONE system that’s used to track missing adults…or to attempt to identify the remains of the unknown. But there might be if several lawmakers have their way. Representatives Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Ted Poe (R-TX) have introduced HR 3695, the Help Find The Missing Act (Billy’s Law). Billy Smolinski of Waterbury, Connecticut, was 31 when he went missing. The proposed law in his name is intended to provide the framework for a nationwide alerting and identification system.

When we made our film Finding Diane, the crux of the matter was just this: Michigan and Wisconsin made use of different reporting systems for missing adults. Perhaps because of that, it took the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department and the Michigan State Police 18 months to identify Diane as Barbara Biehn of Racine.

Here’s the stated intention of the law:

To authorize funding for, and increase accessibility to, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, to facilitate data sharing between such system and the National Crime Information Center database of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to provide incentive grants to help facilitate reporting to such systems, and for other purposes.

If you want to read more about the law, sign and forward the petition, you can click here.

If you want to read the entire text of the proposal, you might click here.

This kind of proposal makes a lot of sense. One of the questions that surrounds it, though, is cost. Okay, so it’s a great idea and we need this to further the cause of justice for missing adults and for the 40,000 or so unidentified whose bodies have been found, in short people who need to be brought back home alive or dead. So, I called Rep. Murphy’s Washington, D.C. office and posed the question. The estimated cost for the first year is $500 million, about $10 million per state. That’s exclusive of any additional funds that states might want to add in for refinements. And, say, the population of the entire country is 308 million. That would mean each and every one of us would pony up $1.62 a year. Well, yeah, I would be willing to pay the $8.12 a year to be able to better track the members of our immediate family. Still, it’s going to be a hard sell in this state at this time. Jobs are scarce and people are still losing homes, are homeless, are struggling mightily.

One other question I have remains: how long would we need to keep supporting this? Once its up and running with the infrastructure in place, might it not just become our new way of doing things–requiring the same amount of effort as the old way but just more electrons holding hands? Devising the system, upgrading hardware and software is not necessarily a money pit. Does there need to be another bureau and a resulting bureaucracy? I tend to think it might become a built-in practice that we might wonder how we did without. …Especially if it works–which would remain to be seen. We know that what we have in place now doesn’t.

Well, these money and policy matters must be decided at a much broader level than this forum, although addressing it here is appropriate. At least you’ll have some idea of what might be coming down the pike. I know there are a lot of families whose loved ones are listed here who would think this a VERY good idea.

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