Webinar presenter Carol Schweitzer answered a number of your questions after her presentation, "Forensic Services Unit Resources, Long-term Missing & Unidentified Children, for Justice Professionals." Here are a few of her responses.
Audience Question: What platform is being used to create your missing and unidentified maps, the one that you showed earlier in the presentation?
Carol Schweitzer: Esri.
Audience Question: When a case involves cross-border cases either with Canada and the US or maybe Mexico and the US, do you see some challenges that come about because of those kinds of cases?
Carol Schweitzer: Yes. We see challenges, I don't think we actually come across a case where we don't come across some challenges. if you're talking about whether it's a missing or an unidentified person, databases are probably one of the biggest challenges. The US has multiple national databases even though we don't all talk to each other, the databases don't talk to each other, anybody can go into NamUs and do searches for missing and unidentified persons. Law enforcement has access to NCMEC files as well as NCIC records. Our border countries, Mexico and Canada, do not have a centralized database of missing and unidentified persons yet. I know Canada has made several advances to developing that and they actually may have just pushed one out this past year. But if they have, it's brand new, and there's still no centralized repository for all this information. You have to go to every individual territory. The information is there, you just have to know who to call and what questions to ask to make sure that your searches are comprehensive. But everybody that we do have partnerships with across the border, one way or the other are very much in support of finding resolution in these cases so we do have good partners on both sides that really do help facilitate when information or comparisons are needed crossing those lines.
Audience Question: Do missing person entries in NCIC expire?
Carol Schweitzer: Technically, if a missing child once they turned 18, that entry will come up for review for that law enforcement agency. Law enforcement has the responsibility to validate that entry to say yes this is still a missing person and revalidate that entry. Sometimes, those entries get overlooked and they do get purged from the NCIC system but it can just be a matter of the parents calling back in to say my child is still missing or if the case intake here at the national center we get notified of those canceled entries and we can just call those agencies and say, "We saw this cancellation, is this missing child recovered?". Usually, somebody can look that up very quickly and say no, not sure why NCIC purged it and they re-enter within minutes. The mechanism for when the child does turn 18, that system sends an alert out basically saying, "Hey, validate this entry or not?".
Audience Question: I know that you indicated that NCMEC does not charge law enforcement agencies for your services. Do you partner organizations charge agencies for access to their services? Like when you work with the Secret Service, or the Department of State, pollen labs and so on?
Carol Schweitzer: The majority do not. They donate their resources. We have partnerships like through Bode Cellmark that donate testing. All the testing through the US customs and border protection is donated. The majority of all our external partners donate testing through us. There are a few, the newer ones that do charge fees and NCMEC does try to facilitate or offset some of those fees. They're minimal and we do get significant discounts through those labs that may still charge something.
Audience Question: Have you seen any common characteristics of cases that tend to end up on your desk as long-term missing person cases?
Carol Schweitzer: No. Every single case is unique, with its own set of circumstances and there's no real common thread of why a case would become long term. Every case has its own challenges and set of circumstances.
Audience Question: Does NCMEC use any kind of top or lead management system for leads that are called in?
Carol Schweitzer: Yes, all of our leads are reported, both audio as well as narrative recorded through our online reporting systems through our call center. It's also individual cases, it's tracked through a lead management system to where we can pull up all the leads that have been called in over the year on one specific case. There is a way to go back and search our own records to see if a certain tip has been called in the past.
Audience Question: Are you able to share the name of that lead management system or is it something you built internally?
Carol Schweitzer: It's something that we built internally.
Audience Question: Are there any books or resources that you can recommend that suggest the best practices in investigating missing person cases?
Carol Schweitzer: The National Center actually hosted long-term missing summit a few years ago and has put out a pretty extensive guide that talks about all different resources that can be applied to cold case investigations and it's free — you can download it on our website at missingkids.org. If you look under publications, it will be called the long-term missing guide and in there you can print out one chapter at a time or the entire guide which is a couple hundred pages. You can also download it for free.