GREAT FALLS – The Missing Children Act of 1985 established a Montana Missing Persons Clearinghouse within the Department of Justice.
The department implemented a searchable online database in March 2008 that for the first time, is updated in real time and includes any photos provided by law enforcement.
There are dozens of people included in the database at any given time; some of them are new and current, while others are decades old.
A very small number of the cases are considered suspicious, or possibly even criminal, and may be elevated by the MT DOJ to “Missing/Endangered Person Advisory” or “AMBER Alert” status.
However, many of the cases involving teens or young adults are often runaways, and there is very little that law enforcement agencies or media outlets can do about such cases. In such cases, parents or loved ones are encouraged to share posters, pictures, and information in Facebook groups in their community.
The Missing Persons Clearinghouse:
- Assists law enforcement agencies in entering the necessary information into state and national databases, and in identifying missing and unidentified persons
- Provides general assistance and information to the public concerning missing persons in Montana
- Works closely with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and other state clearinghouses to aid in locating children who have been unlawfully taken out of Montana or brought into Montana
- Maintains an online database of missing persons in Montana to ensure that elementary and secondary schools throughout the state are aware of school-age children who are missing.
Click here to visit the Montana Missing Persons Clearinghouse website.
Whenever a child is reported missing in Montana, law enforcement agencies work quickly to determine the circumstances, and whether or not to issue an AMBER Alert, or a Missing/Endangered Person Advisory (MEPA).
The AMBER Alert program started in Texas in 1996 after 9-year old Amber Hagerman was abducted and murdered. Broadcasters in the area teamed up with law enforcement agencies to establish a program capable of quickly distributing information about child abductions to the general public.
In memory of Amber, the program was called the AMBER Plan—America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.
In Montana, officials also have the option of issuing a Missing/Endangered Person Advisory.
Here is the difference between the two:
To activate the program, all of the following criteria must be met:
- There is reasonable belief by law enforcement that a child has been abducted or has disappeared under suspicious circumstances.
- The missing child is age 17 years or younger, or has a proven mental or physical disability.
- The law enforcement agency believes the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.
- There is enough descriptive information about the victim and abduction for law enforcement to issue an AMBER Alert to assist in the recovery of the child.
- The child’s name and other critical data elements, including the Child Abduction flag, have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer.
- The AMBER Alert system is not used to track runaways, missing children, or children involved in custody disputes. The program is restricted to child abduction cases that could be life-threatening.
MISSING/ENDANGERED PERSON ADVISORY
A MEPA Advisory is initiated solely by Montana law enforcement agencies using the following criteria:
- Do the circumstances fail to meet the criteria for an AMBER Alert?
- Is the person missing under unexplained, involuntary or suspicious circumstances?
- Is the person believed to be in danger because of age, health, mental or physical disability, or environmental or weather conditions; to be in the company of a potentially dangerous person; or is there some other factor that may put the person in peril?
- Is there information that could assist the public in the safe recovery of the missing person? The initial advisory will include any available information, like name, age, physical description, date of birth and where the person was last seen. It might also include information about whether the person has a health condition or physical or mental disability.
Click here to read more at the MT DOJ website.