There is a crisis growing in the realm of criminal justice and missing persons. According to Statista, as of the beginning of 2022, there were 521,705 missing person files in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. As changes in criminal patterns continue to emerge in the thick of the pandemic, the problem is projected to get worse as law enforcement resources are drawn elsewhere. However, experts have proffered that one of the best solutions to the growing crisis is a similar, highly-accessible database to NCIC known as the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) . However, the glaring roadblock is the underutilization by law enforcement. So what are the major differences between NCIC and NamUs?
One of the chief differences between NCIC and NamUs is the level of access to the public. The National Missing and Unidentified Persons Systems is a federally-funded online database for missing, unidentified, and unclaimed persons in the United States. While NCIC is only available to authorized law enforcement and criminal justice agencies, NamUs has varying levels of access that allow everyone from law enforcement to private citizens. Law enforcement and criminal justice agencies have the same respective level of access afforded to them in NCIC, but with NamUs, families of missing persons can also enter their loved one’s information into the database. Because NamUs is a database that aggregates information from law enforcement, criminal justice agencies, coroners, and families of missing persons, it’s often regarded by cold case experts as one of the greatest resources available to law enforcement and other investigating agencies. The shocking part? It is one of the most underutilized resources available to law enforcement.
There is no federal or state mandate that compels law enforcement and criminal justice agencies to enter information from their open missing person cases into NamUs. There have been repeated effort to pass legislation in this matter from cold case experts who wish to see the database—people like Dr. Erin Kimmerle, a leading expert in cold cases who runs the Florida Institute of Forensic Anthropology and Applied Science at the University of South Florida. She says that law enforcement must be utilizing NamUs, because not only are the state and national databases often out of date, but NamUs actually allows users to submit pictures and DNA samples from the public that can help law enforcement narrow the search, “It’s huge and a lot of cases get solved that way. Someone sees something they recognize, an afgan blanket or a sweater.”
Across the U.S., only ten states require law enforcement to use NamUs. States like Florida are still permitting law enforcement to enter data into NamUs on a voluntary basis. According to Kimmerle, the idea of it being voluntary leaves the quality of data entry wanting, “When it’s voluntary, there’s information in there, but not all the information, so you’re really limited, especially when it comes to unidentified persons. We have to know who we’re looking for.”