National Missing and Unidentified Persons System
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The NamUs program
The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) is a national clearinghouse and resource center for missing, unidentified, and unclaimed person cases throughout the United States. Funded and administered by the National Institute of Justice through a cooperative agreement with the University of North Texas Health Science Center's Center for Human Identification, all NamUs resources are provided to law enforcement, medical examiners, coroners, allied forensic professionals, and family members of missing persons.
No-cost NamUs resources include technology, forensic and analytical services, investigative support, and local, regional, and online training programs. By bringing people, information, forensic science, and technology together, NamUs helps resolve missing and unidentified person cases across the country. Services include:
- Database technology which provides a secure, easy-to-use, centralized online database for information sharing, case management, advanced searching, and automatic matching tools to expedite case associations and resolutions.
- Regional Program Specialists (RPSs) who hold Department of Justice security clearances, vet all professional users and case data, assist with the collection of biometric information, provide NamUs training, assist with the coordination and implementation of missing person day events, and provide investigative support to missing, unidentified, and unclaimed person cases.
- Fingerprint services to scan, classify, upload, analyze, and compare fingerprint information submitted to NamUs, including collaboration with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for searching unidentified decedent prints through the FBI's Next Generation Identification national database.
- Nuclear and mitochondrial DNA analyses through the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification's Missing Persons Unit.
- Forensic Odontology services to obtain, code, and upload dental information to NamUs.
- Forensic anthropology services through the University of North Texas' Center for Human Identification's Missing Persons Unit.
- Analytical services to assist with locating indication of life for persons reported missing to NamUs, locating family contact information for DNA collections and next of kin death notifications, and locating/vetting tips and leads related to missing and unidentified person cases.
The number of missing persons and unidentified remains in the United States
Over 600,000 individuals go missing in the United States every year. Many missing children and adults are quickly found, alive and well. However, tens of thousands of individuals remain missing for more than one year – what many agencies consider “cold cases”. A 2004 Bureau of Justice Statistics study found that each year, 4,400 unidentified bodies are recovered in the United States, with approximately 1,000 of those bodies remaining unidentified after one year. On June 15, 2018, there were over 14,000 missing person cases and over 12,000 unidentified person cases published in NamUs. The number of missing and unidentified remains in the United States has been deemed our nation's silent "mass disaster over time".
History of NamUs
In 2003, the National Institute of Justice began funding major efforts to maximize the use of DNA technology in our criminal justice system, including in the investigation of missing and unidentified person cases. By 2005, the institute expanded its efforts with the “Identifying the Missing Summit”, where criminal justice practitioners, forensic scientists, policymakers, and victim advocates defined major challenges in investigating and solving missing and unidentified decedent cases. As a result of that summit, the Deputy Attorney General created the National Missing Persons Task Force, which identified the need to improve access to information that would help solve missing and unidentified person cases. The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) was created to meet that need.
In 2007, the NamUs Unidentified Persons database was launched, providing medical examiners and coroners with a tool to store and share case information with criminal justice professionals and family members of missing persons across the country. The following year, the NamUs Missing Persons (MP) database was launched, and in 2009, the databases were connected for automatic case comparisons, expanding the power of NamUs to make associations between missing and unidentified persons.
In 2011, daily management of the NamUs program was transitioned to the University of North Texas Health Science Center, with continued administration and oversight by the National Institute of Justice. Management through the Center for Human Identification at the university enhanced NamUs' ability to facilitate DNA services and enhanced the quality and quantity of DNA information entered into NamUs.
In 2012, an Analytical Division was added to NamUs, offering criminal justice professionals additional resources to locate information on missing persons, locate family members for DNA sample collections and next of kin death notifications, and disposition tips and leads. Also in 2012, the NamUs AFIS/Fingerprint Unit was created, bringing additional in-house forensic services to NamUs, including a collaboration with the FBI's Latent Print Unit to search all unidentified decedent prints through the Next Generation Identification system.
In late 2015, plans to perform a complete rebuild of the NamUs application began. Stakeholders from the law enforcement, medical examiner, coroner, non-profit, and public sector were interviewed as part of a Discovery Phase to plan the features and functionality of the upgraded system. Development work began in the first quarter of 2016 and culminated in the release of the NamUs 2.0 application in May 2018.
- "NamUs". www.namus.gov. Retrieved 2018-06-15.
- Hickman, Matthew J. (June 2007). "Medical Examiners and Coroners' Offices, 2004" (PDF). Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report. NCJ 216756.
- "Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains: The Nation's Silent Mass Disaster". National Institute of Justice. Retrieved 2018-06-15.
- "About NamUs". www.namus.gov. Retrieved 2018-06-15.