TENNESSEE, USA — A new bill introduced in the U.S. Congress could change the way missing person cases are handled. Right now, when a person is reported missing they are entered by law enforcement into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). If a person is missing for more than 30 days, then some states are required by law to enter that missing person into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS).
Tennessee state law requires law enforcement to use NAMUS. However, it does not specify how much information officers have to put into the system.
That's where Congressman Tim Burchett (R - TN 2nd District) and Congressman Joe Neguse (D - CO 2nd District, come in. They introduced the bipartisan Tracking and Reporting Absent Community-Members Everywhere (TRACE) Act to improve missing persons reporting.
According to data collected by NAMUS, The tally for missing and unidentified people in the U.S. routinely tops 600,000 people a year. It's often referred to by law enforcement as the nation's silent mass disaster.
The purpose of the recommended legislation is to ensure each missing person case is accurate, up-to-date, and includes identifying information for the individual.
"There are few details that are outlined in the missing person profiles on NAMUS," Rep. Burchett said. " Under that bill that we're proposing, the missing person profiles would need to include stuff like a description of ongoing operations to recover the person, identifying information, and whether or not the person went missing on federal land."
The key, Burchett said, is to enhance the NAMUS reporting requirements. Other requirements included in the bill are the description of the initial search, the cause of death if remains are found, the activity in which the person was engaged, any suspected destination, and a description of any items that are recovered.
Rep. Burchett said this is a bill that is close to his heart.
"I can remember growing up with the Trenny Gibson case. She went to Bearden High School and my mom taught at Bearden when she was there." Burchett said. " And, of course, Dennis Martin was a little boy who was my age, and just, there are so many mistakes that were made in both of these cases."
Burchett said he hopes the legislation will clarify reporting requirements around people who were reported missing in national parks.
"The reporting on missing persons, it's so inadequate. I feel like it's hindering our law enforcement's ability to recognize some trends that are related to foul play or accidents. And if we have accurate, updated data — I think it's going to be critical in the rescue efforts and recovery efforts." Burchett said.
For more information on the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, you can visit their website.