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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivering a State of the State earlier this year. (Photo: Richard Drew/AP)

New York became the fourth state to require law enforcement to enter the most stubborn cases into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs.

The law, signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Nov. 29, will ask law enforcement to enter all their missing persons and unidentified bodies into the system within 180 days.

New York previously passed a law last year requiring coroners and medical examiners to update NamUs with unidentified remains and forensic evidence, which made it the first state to do so.

But the latest legislation will only make the database more powerful for runaway children and cold case murders alike in the Empire State—and beyond, said J. Todd Matthews, case management and communications director for NamUs.

“Once again New York has set an example in the recognition of missing and unidentified persons,” said Matthews. “A very important step forward.”

The legislation was sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Otis (Westchester County) and State Senator Diane Savino (Staten Island).

Previous states have passed laws requiring NamUs notifications, including Tennessee, New Jersey and Connecticut. (Bills at the federal level, however, have failed).

New York, which has a population greater than that of those other three states combined, may have a taller order to fill in getting all the notifications into the database. So legislators made a compromise: instead of the standard 30 days’ deadline for making the addition to the database in missing persons cases, the threshold will be 180 days—ostensibly making it easier with staffing to not have to report all shorter-term runaway cases, officials said. 

“These measures help law enforcement agencies in the resolution of missing persons cases,” said Otis.

Savino, the state senator, said there was immediate impact since she and Otis passed their law last year requiring medical examiners and coroners to input data into NamUs.

“Just one month after Governor Cuomo signed that bill into law, NamUs personnel successfully identified a male body and his family was finally able to find relief and closure,” said Savino.

NamUs was begun in 2005 with a daunting task: to grapple with the missing persons epidemic that has always been one of America’s best-kept, and most horrific, secrets. (For instance, the National Crime Information Center, or NCIC, has more than 87,500 lost persons listed as of the end of November.) The system has continued to grow and have successes because of that growth, making connections between cases that otherwise would not have been well understood.

NamUs, unlike the NCIC, is open to the public for searching and for data input. And there are gaps between the two systems. For instance, the NCIC as of Dec. 11 shows 3,763 missing persons from the state of New York—but at the same time, there are just 970 listed in NamUs (and only 564 of those remain open).

“It really is a catastrophe—it’s just spread out by distance and time that we’re not all experiencing, like a tornado or a hurricane,” said Matthews, in a recent interview.

Other states have had discussions on requiring NamUs notifications, Matthews said. Those include Kentucky, Oklahoma, Illinois, California and Pennsylvania. However, each of those states has not yet formally considered legislation.

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