House passes bill to upgrade missing-persons identification systems

The House yesterday overwhelmingly passed a bill, known as Jennifer's Law, that would help law enforcement cross-reference unidentified victims with files of missing persons within the FBI's primary national crime-fighting computer.

Currently, law enforcement agencies cannot nationally cross-check missing-persons files with the files of unidentified persons, largely because data on unidentified persons is not entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), a system that law enforcement agencies nationwide use to conduct criminal background checks, locate missing persons and find stolen vehicles.

Local law enforcement agencies do not have the resources to enter the unidentified-person data into the system, said Todd Mitchell, manager of government affairs with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Jennifer's Law is named after Jennifer Wilmer, a Long Island woman who disappeared in California in 1993. The bill (H.R. 1915) was introduced two weeks ago by Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.) and was passed in the House by a vote of 370-to-4.

If signed into law, the bill would provide states with $6 million over three years to update their files on unidentified persons. "We're happy that Congress has identified the resources to make it happen and to make [law enforcement] aware that NCIC can help them," Mitchell said. "If they use the database, there is a likelihood they will come up with a match."

The chance of the bill becoming law is excellent, said Mitchell, whose organization is working with Lazio and the Wilmer parents to identify a Senate sponsor for the bill.

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