Washington State Attorney General Christine Gregoire has organized a state task force to examine widespread failures in police investigations of missing-person and unidentified-body cases that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer disclosed this year. The 15-member task force, which includes top FBI and State Patrol administrators, local sheriffs and police officials, medical examiners and victim advocates, met late last month to discuss how to tackle problems exposed in the newspaper’s report.
The series, “Without a Trace,” published over 10 days in February after a yearlong investigation, detailed how local police — through ignorance, indifference and lack of training — repeatedly neglect missing-person reports, allowing recovered bodies to remain unidentified and killers to get away with murder.
Task force members suggested improvements for them in three main categories, the Post-Intelligencer says:
–Dealing with survivors of missing-person and unidentified-body cases.
–Creating “best practices” guidelines for investigations.
–Establishing education and training protocols for law enforcement.
While the newpaper found that money could fix some of the problems — especially flawed databases and understaffed units that track missing-person cases — experts repeatedly stressed that many flaws could be corrected sooner, at little cost. By overcoming indifference, bias and territorialism during investigations, and by simply following proven protocols and state laws, police agencies could more readily link disappearances to recovered bodies — and, in turn, begin the search for killers, experts said.