February 14, 2007
MISSING PERSONS POLICIES FOR TEXAS
By: Lila McKinley, Legislative Fellow
You asked us to describe the laws and policies governing reports and investigations of missing persons in Texas.
Texas law provides general guidance on the state's missing persons policy and sets out specific search and reporting requirements for endangered children or adults with dementia or Alzheimer's disease. However, local law enforcement agencies generally decide how to evaluate and respond to complaints and how to conduct searches.
Some state agencies have a minimal role in missing persons investigations. For example, the state Department of Education must implement its own program to address missing school children. All state agencies are required to provide law enforcement agencies with any information that will help them in their investigation of missing persons.
We describe the laws below.
FILING A MISSING PERSON REPORT
Under Texas law, people may report missing persons to an authorized local law enforcement officer in person, by telephone, or on a report form (Tex. Code Ann. § 63.004). There is no required waiting period to make the reports. The Department of Public Safety issues a standard report form, which is available at its website.
Once a local law enforcement agency receives a report, it must begin its investigation with due diligence. However, if the person is a child in danger, or an adult suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia, it must begin its investigation immediately (Tex. Code Ann. § 63.009(a)(1)). The agency must enter all available identifying information into the National Crime Information Center database immediately. This includes dental records, fingerprints, and other physical characteristics (Tex. Code Ann. § 63.009(a)(3)). The agency must supplement the original entry with any additional information it receives at a later date (Tex. Code Ann. § 63.009(b)). For example, if during the investigation the police identify and obtain a warrant for a suspect, they must immediately enter that information into the database (Tex. Code Ann. § 63.009(d)).
The agency also must enter all of the information described above (including supplemental reports) into the Texas Missing Person's Clearinghouse (Tex. Code Ann. § 63.009(a)(3)). The clearinghouse is the state's central repository of information on missing persons. The clearinghouse also assists police in missing persons investigations (in response to local requests), cooperates with other law enforcement agencies, and tries to assure that its information is complete and accurate. It has established an intrastate system for communicating information on missing persons (Tex. Code Ann. § 63.003).
ADULTS WITH MENTAL IMPAIRMENTS AND CHILDREN
The law requires law enforcement officials to take additional precautions if the case concerns a missing child or an adult who suffers from dementia or Alzheimer's. In the latter case, the officials must immediately file a report with the Alzheimer's Association Safe Return Crisis number. The report must include all identifying characteristics such as dental records; fingerprints; clothing worn when last seen; a description of the abductor, if available; and other physical characteristics (Tex. Code Ann. § 63.009(a)(3)).
If the missing person is a child under age 11, the police must notify the child's school and the Office of Vital Statistics. Once notified, the school and the office must flag the child's records. If the child was born or previously attended school in a different state, the agencies must notify the state that the child has been reported missing (Tex. Code Ann. § 63.020(e)).
If either the school or the office receives a request for flagged records, it must obtain (1) a written form from the requestor that includes the person's name, address, telephone number and relationship to the child, and (2) a copy of the requestor's driver's license or photo identification. The agency must inform the requestor that it will mail the records to him or her, but it must not inform the requestor that the child is missing. It must then immediately contact local police (Tex. Code Ann. § 63.021).
Law enforcement officials may also activate the Amber Alert if the missing child is under age 18 and an investigation shows it is likely that he or she has been abducted. If the officials determine that these criteria have been met, they must ask the Department of Public Safety to activate the alert. Once a request is made, the alert is distributed to all Texas law enforcement agencies, the Texas Department of Transportation Management (to be broadcast on highway signs), and the National Weather Service's Texas Warning System (to be broadcast on radio and television stations).
DENTAL AND MEDICAL INFORMATION
Additionally, the assigned officer must give or mail to the person who made the report both a dental and medical record release form marked with a notation indicating that the person is missing. A completed form authorizes any dentist or doctor within the state to release medical and dental information for the missing individual, including X-rays, blood type, height, weight, allergies, and information concerning scars or illnesses. Once the police receive these records, they must forward them to the clearinghouse (Tex. Code Ann. § § 63.006 and 63.007).
These records must be entered into the clearinghouse database and cross-referenced against unidentified human remains. The database is updated frequently. The police must enter all information on unidentified bodies into both the clearinghouse and the National Crime Information Center by the tenth working day after a death is reported (Tex. Code Ann. § 63.009(c)).
The database is checked periodically. If a match is found, the clearinghouse must report it to the Department of Public Safety. That information is then disseminated to the local law enforcement agency assigned to the investigation (Tex. Code Ann. § 63.014).
Approximately 30 days after receiving a missing persons report on someone deemed “high risk”, the law enforcement agency must request a DNA sample from the person's family. High risk includes persons (1) believed to be abducted, (2) missing under suspicious circumstances, or (3) missing for more than 30 days and believed to be in danger (Tex. Code Ann. § 63.051 et. seq.). The agency must submit the DNA sample, along with a missing persons report, to the statewide DNA data center for missing persons (Tex. Code Ann. § 63.060).
The data center is established by law and housed at the University of Texas Health Science Center. Its sole purpose is to identify the remains of high-risk missing persons (Tex. Code Ann. § 63.052). Once the center receives a sample, it must enter it into the database and cross-reference it against unidentified human remains (Tex. Code Ann. § 63.054).
State law places additional duties upon state agencies. They are required to provide law enforcement officials with any information about a missing person that will help the officials in their investigation (Tex. Code Ann. § 63.015(a)).
The Department of Education is specifically required to administer a program that would assist in both locating and reporting a missing child. The Board of Education is required to adopt rules for the operation of the program and coordinate its efforts with information received from the clearinghouse. Both public and private schools are required to assist in the program (Tex. Code Ann. § 63.008).
For information on both federal and Connecticut's missing persons procedures see OLR Report 2007-R-0037.