According to a 2004 Bureau of Justice survey there were over 13,000 unidentified human remains known to medical examiners and coroners in our country that year. Approximately 4000 unidentified human remains cases are handled each year and of those about 1000 remain unidentified after one year. We are working a one such case here in our office.
We need a better system to get these individuals identified and it seems it may finally be coming. It will be a dual database system developed by the Dept. of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs (with the cute name of NamUs), phased into existence over the next few years. One database will contain records of unidentified human remains and the other will contain missing persons reports centrally compiled. I think the best part will be that by sometime in 2009 there will be the capability for the system to compare the 2 databases automatically and put out possible matches without labor-intensive “hand” searches.
While all kids 18 years old and younger are currently entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC), adult missing persons reporting into the system is much less consistent. Only some states require it be done and some agencies feel that adults have many reasons to “disappear” and so are sometimes less conscientious about entering their missing persons reports.
The Doe Network can be a help in these attempts at identification, but they are a page by page search system begging for improved searchability.
The new system will have information inputted by and will be searchable by coroners and medical examiners, law enforcement, and the public; but with different levels of information access. There are certainly times when we all can use all the help we can get in difficult identifications.
Currently unidentified human remains are entered into the database and it is searchable, but not easily and without as much automation as computer searches should allow.
This is going to be a great tool in helping with difficult identification cases.