Plans announced for new missing Indigenous persons laws

Posted at 6:14 PM, May 21, 2019

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox announced the implementation plans for several bills passed by the 2019 Montana Legislature that address missing Indigenous persons.

“One of the most pressing concerns we hear about is the disproportionate number of Indigenous people who go missing both here in Montana and across the country and this is unacceptable,” said Fox.

Hanna’s Act, or House Bill 21, created a new Missing Persons Specialist position within the Montana Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation.

The specialist will work with state, local, federal and tribal officials to improve how missing persons cases are handled as well as organize training for law enforcement authorities. The specialist will also be responsible for managing the state missing persons database.

Fox explained in states like Montana, the division between state, federal and tribal jurisdictions can cause issues.

“Unfortunately, sometimes that can give rise to barriers,” said Fox. “Sometimes it’s inadvertent, and we always have to respect the sovereignty of those entities, but I think when we have individuals who are dedicated to finding ways, in which those barriers have gotten in the way.”

The job description for the position has been posted online and the Department hopes to have someone hired by July 1.

HB20 and HB54, which also passed this session, clarify when law enforcement must report a missing person, especially a child.

The passage of Senate Bill 312, the Looping in Native Communities Act (LINC), created a missing Indigenous persons task force.

The task force will include members from each tribal government from Montana’s reservations and the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe.

Duties will include administering the LINC network grant program, identifying jurisdictional barriers between law enforcement agencies, and working to identify strategies to improve interagency communication.

Fox has reached out to the tribes for potential candidates and hopes to make appointments as soon as possible.

The first meeting of the missing Indigenous persons task force will be on June 11 in Helena.

On June 12, the Department of Justice will hold missing persons training on issues related to missing persons cases across the state. The conference will also feature sessions focusing on Native American issues.

The training is free and available for both members of law enforcement and the public.

Fox noted public involvement is often crucial in missing persons cases.

“When people are in tune for the need to watch out for a particular vehicle or a particular person, oftentimes the leads that we get from the public result in us recovering someone before something terrible happens,” said Fox.

The Office of Public Instruction (OPI) is also actively creating an electronic photography repository of students that will be accessible by law enforcement to help with forming a missing child report.

The system was created by SB40 and OPI is hoping to have the system live by July.

-Reported by John Riley/MTN News