Under a new law, New Jersey police must accept without delay any report of a missing person and immediately jot down identifying information about the individual, reports The Record. “Patricia’s Law,” named for a woman who remains missing after leaving her home in 2001, ensures that police cannot refuse to accept such reports and must notify the missing person’s family of support services. Another new initiative will have police and medical examiner’s offices compare DNA samples of the state’s roughly 1,500 missing persons with those of 272 unidentified bodies.
New Jersey and most states have historically lacked procedures for handling missing person’s cases. In recent years, Oregon, Indiana, and Connecticut have adopted legislation similar to Patricia’s Law. “They say the first 24 hours are the only 24 hours,” said Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, a former Bergen County undersheriff. Under Patricia’s Law, police cannot refuse to take on the case of a missing person – whether child or adult – on any basis, including if circumstances do not indicate foul play or if it appears the person disappeared voluntarily. Police must then take down more than two dozen pieces of information, from the person’s name to the address of his or her dentist. If the person remains missing after 30 days, police must attempt to gather DNA samples as well. The DNA Identification Project will attempt to cross-match DNA gleaned from the state’s missing persons with DNA from the state’s unidentified remains. To do that, authorities must begin exhuming bodies. “New Jersey will be the first in the country to implement and coordinate this national model,” said Attorney General Anne Milgram.