New York lawmakers want all the state’s medical examiners and coroners to share fingerprints and other information about their unidentified dead with a federal data center trying to match remains with America’s missing.
The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System already has profiles of 1,293 unnamed New York dead that were submitted voluntarily. They are among more than 13,000 filed nationally since the database opened a decade ago.
The New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner contributes already. It handles the majority of cases statewide.
The recently passed legislation would ensure all counties follow, increasing the probability remains will be identified, according to sponsors.
“This will not only assist law enforcement agencies in solving crimes but, most importantly, help to bring closure to families who are coping with the tragic disappearance of a loved one,” said Assemblyman Steven Otis, a Westchester Democrat.
New York data on the website, called NamUs, show 22 counties outside New York City reported unidentified dead, including Westchester. The site has no current reports from 35 other counties.
It’s difficult to know how many more fingerprints would flow to the federal clearinghouse if Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs the law. NamUs also lists the gender, race, age range and date and county when and where the body was found.
It’s accessible to the public.
The state’s coroners and medical examiners already are required to send fingerprints to the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services where they have questions about identification.
The division received more than 7,800 last year, checking against fingerprints on file, but doesn’t aggregate information separately about the unknown dead and doesn’t forward it to NamUs.
The federal center was developed by the National Institute of Justice in a national effort to identify an estimated 40,000 unidentified human remains in the offices of coroners and medical examiners nationally that were buried or cremated. About 4,400 new cases occur every year, with 1,000 still unidentified a year later.
NamUs shows that 2,274 of its listed cases have been closed, 749 with its help.
NamUs launched a separate database that has taken reports of 23,185 missing persons, with almost half of them having closed, 1,337 with NamUs’ help. Those still missing include 530 from New York, also submitted voluntarily by police and reports by families vetted by law enforcement.
The National Institute of Justice identified another problem before NamUs was established: that only cases of missing persons age 18 and younger had to be reported by police, leaving a low rate of reporting the missing to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, which isn’t publicly accessible.
In a report last month, the Government Accountability Office called for sharing information between the two systems.
Pending federal legislation would integrate them. Sen. Christopher Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat and sponsor, said nearly every year 600,000 people are reported missing in the U.S. “Thousands of families are missing loved ones because government won’t let databases talk to each other,” he said.