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Reporting and Investigating Missing Persons: A Background Paper On How To Frame The Issue

NCJ Number
Date Published
August 2019
14 pages

After reviewing the scope, reporting, data-collection, policies, and laws related to missing persons in the United States at all governmental levels, this report raises questions that should be answered in improving policies and practices related to missing persons.


In 2018, 612,846 missing person record entries were submitted to the National Crime Information Center’s (NCIC’s) Missing Persons File, a crime database managed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Although composing the smallest portion of the U.S. population, the second highest number of reported missing persons (9,914 in 2018) were American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, or Pacific Islanders. This circumstance requires that federal, state, and local laws, policies, and protocols frame the reporting and investigation of missing person cases. This paper notes that missing person cases are not necessarily caused by the commission of a crime. Although there are laws that require the reporting and investigation of missing children, there are no federal laws that require the reporting and investigation of missing adults. Adults have the right to choose to leave their established community without reporting that they are leaving. Regardless of the reason for the disappearance, however, family and friends of the missing person experience trauma that motivates them to determine what has happened to a missing loved one. This paper reports on resources to help find missing persons, including NamUs, which is a no-cost nationwide, centralized information clearinghouse and resource center on missing persons and unidentified and unclaimed decedents. Local, state, and federal policies that address the reporting and investigation of missing person cases are discussed. Questions are posed to guide policy discussions.

Date Published: August 1, 2019