WASHINGTON, DC ( release ) Monday, United States Senator Charles E. Schumer announced his support for legislation called "Billy's Law," also known as Help Find the Missing Act, to close loopholes in our national missing persons systems. Schumer has sponsored this legislation in the past, and his co-sponsorship this Congress comes in the wake of the recent death of George Delaney, a Rochester Institute of Technology student. When George Delany went missing on March 12th, RIT faculty and students joined with law enforcement and the community to search for him.
This week they wrote to Senator Schumer in support of Billy’s Law, after experiencing firsthand the gaps in our national missing person response system. Schumer states that the enactment of Billy’s Law will provide law enforcement officials with the tools and resources it needs to better conduct the search for missing adults.
“George Delany’s death is a tragedy for Rochester and all of New York,” said Schumer. “And, what is even more difficult to believe are the loopholes in our national missing persons system. Just as we provide law enforcement with tools like the Amber alert and access to missing person databases when children are missing, we should not tolerate delays and lapses in information when people over the age of 18, like George Delany, are missing. Billy’s Law would provide the critical tools and alerts to law enforcement officials that are essential in the search of missing adults. What’s more, Billy’s Law seeks to bring our national missing persons databases into the 21st century, creating a central resource for officials and families that are so desperately trying to locate their loved ones.”
RIT professor Paloma Capanna, along with a dozen RIT students who were personally involved in the search for George wrote to Senator Schumer in support of this legislation stating, “Our support for this [legislation] comes from our personal experience with our classmate and friend, George Delany. At least two college students go missing every week. And, nationwide, more than 20,000 persons are reported missing each year. The federal government should intervene to ensure that any barriers to participation in and access to all available databases are eliminated, including supplements for any fees that may be prohibitive within county budgets.”
Billy’s Law would authorize the National Missing Persons and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), which was created in July 2007 by the Department of Justice (DOJ), to provide a missing persons/unidentified database that the public could access and contribute to. The law would connect NamUs with the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) in order to create more comprehensive missing persons and unidentified remains databases and streamlining the reporting process for local law enforcement. Billy’s Law would expand current law by requiring missing children be reported to NamUs in addition to NCIC, and would create a grant program to help states, local law enforcement and medical examiners report missing persons and unidentified remains to NCIC, NamUs, and the National DNA Index System (NDIS). And, finally Billy’s Law requires the DOJ issue guidelines and best practices on handling missing persons and unidentified remains cases in order to empower law enforcement, medical examiners and coroners to help find the missing.
Billy’s Law is named after Billy Smolinski of Waterbury, Connecticut who went missing on August 24, 2004 at the age of 31. Billy’s family quickly learned that while federal law mandates law enforcement report missing children, there are no such requirements for adults – or unidentified bodies. Compounding this problem is the fact that local law enforcement agencies, medical examiners, and coroners, often don’t have the resources or training to voluntarily report these cases. Finally, even when missing adults and remains are reported, the wide-range of unconnected federal, state, local, and non-profit databases to help match the missing with unidentified bodies, makes finding a match an often insurmountable challenge.
Senator Schumer has supported this legislation in the last Congress. Additionally, the bill has been endorsed by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Fraternal Order of Police, National Association of Police Organizations, Connecticut Department of Public Safety, National Forensic Science Technology Center, National Center for Forensic Science, Doe Missing Persons Network, Center for Hope, Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons, Inc., LostNMissing Inc., Project EDAN, CUE Center for the Missing Persons, Surviving Parents Coalition, and the National Association of Medical Examiners.
Schumer’s support of the legislation also comes two years after Brittanee Drexel, of Gates Chili, went missing on April 25, 2009 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. In the two years since Brittanee went missing, there have not been any major discoveries in the case. Billy’s Law would also strengthen the current law for missing children, as it would require children to be reported to National Missing Persons and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), in addition to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center.
In conjunction with George Delany’s recent death, Senator Schumer states that this legislation is more important than ever. He argues that if Billy’s Law were enacted, it could have provided law enforcement with stronger tools in adult missing person searches like the one for George Delany. Billy’s Law is crucial, as it will close loopholes in the National Missing Persons System, provide training and resources to law enforcement, and connect the numerous missing person databases into a fully functioning database.