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FBI expert explains Petito family push for missing persons database update

Posted at 10:38 PM, Nov 08, 2021

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla — One tweet from Joseph Petito, the father of Gabby Petito, on Nov. 5 garnered thousands of responses. Most of them were votes in support of a poll that Joseph put out, that spoke about the need to require law enforcement to report to NAMUS or the National Missing And Unidentified Persons System.

"It started as unidentified persons, basically dead bodies, that were found that were unidentified in 2008," said former FBI Special Agent Brian Kensel.

The national database, connected to the Department of Justice, has since expanded to include all missing people. It also includes access to specialized investigators and scientists, that Kensel said would be helpful to law enforcement.

"It actually has investigators who will look through other public databases to try to find out of the person who's missing is still alive somewhere else in the country possibly using the same social security number or things like that," he said.

Right now, only 10 states require law enforcement to report to NAMUS and Florida is not one of them. Kensel tells ABC Action News the fact that more states haven't mandated this is likely tied to staffing.

"They don't have the personnel to keep patrol cars on the street to answer service calls so some could see that as an additional burden to have to report," he said.

What most law enforcement agencies do use is a private database called the National Crime Information Center, or NCIC, which includes a bunch of information.

"It has criminal histories, it has warrants if anybody's wanted," said Kensel.

He adds that with the extra tools that NAMUS offers, he expects that state legislators across the country will be getting some calls.

"I think you will see a movement toward more states making it a requirement," he said.

Texas currently has some pending legislation to require law enforcement to report to NAMUS and Connecticut doesn't have a rule on the books, but law enforcement does report to the database as a practice.