Kansas law aims to hasten response to missing-persons reports

07/01/2013 5:25 PM

07/01/2013 11:19 PM

Greg Smith knows the nauseating gut-punch that comes with searching for a missing loved one. And he knows the overwhelming agony of finding that loved one dead.

Now a Republican state senator from Overland Park, Smith pushed for a new law to quickly focus police resources on finding missing persons, especially those thought to be in imminent danger.

That law took effect Monday, and details were announced at a news conference with Smith and law enforcement officials.

“Not knowing where she was was absolutely terrifying,” Smith said of the 2007 search that lasted four days until his missing 18-year-old daughter, Kelsey Smith, was found dead.

Under the new law, all police agencies in Kansas will take a missing-person report, regardless of how long the person has been missing. The information then will be entered into a computer database used by law enforcement entities nationwide.

The law also creates a special category of “high-risk missing person” that will allow law enforcement officials to focus their resources on those cases.

Under the law, a high-risk missing person as someone who is missing under circumstances that would lead police to believe he or she is at risk of bodily harm or death. That would include reports of abductions, people missing more than 30 days or people reported missing under “suspicious or known dangerous circumstances.”

Once that high-risk designation is made, information about that person will be disseminated to every police agency in Kansas.

“The hope is that this new law will bring more people home and bring them home safe,” Smith said.

Wyandotte County Sheriff Donald Ash, the host for Monday’s news conference, said that as many as 2,300 people are reported missing each day nationwide. In the past, many law enforcement agencies required a waiting period before they accepted a report, he said.

Though most police agencies have done away with that policy, many people still think there is a waiting period for reporting someone missing.

In many cases, a missing person’s chances of being found safe are enhanced if law enforcement begins investigating immediately, officials said.

“It serves no function to wait 24 hours,” said Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass.

Douglass said he didn’t think the new law would create an additional burden on police resources. He and the other law enforcement officials at Monday’s news conference said it takes only a few minutes to record a report online, and it easily can be removed once the person is found.

“I’d rather have reports made all day long,” said Kansas City, Kan., police Capt. Alexander Kump . “The sooner we can get onto it, the better.”

When Kelsey Smith didn’t come home after a shopping trip, Overland Park police reacted quickly when she was reported missing, although they had nothing but a “hunch” to act on that something was wrong, her father said.

Even though she was an adult and “technically had the right to be missing,” her dependable character told the family something had to be wrong, Smith said. Despite intensive efforts to find her, she was found dead four days later in Jackson County. The man who admitted to kidnapping, raping and strangling her is serving life in prison without parole.

Smith said that while they searched for his daughter, Overland Park police were very supportive and kept the family updated. Not every family in that situation has that kind of support, he said.

The new law attempts to rectify that. Now when police take a missing-person report, they also will give the family contact information for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children or Let’s Bring Them Home, a national program that offers resources to families of missing adults.

“As law enforcement, we won’t be leaving a family without providing them with additional resources,” Ash said.

Smith said he hoped that the new law generates “a ton” of reports that turn out to be unfounded. Douglass echoed that sentiment.

“Every night in the summer some 3-year-old or 5-year-old walks away missing,” he said. “We are tickled pink when we find them.”

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