Paul Nichols, Bergen Dispatch
Legislation Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Daniel Benson, L. Grace Spencer, Benjie Wimberly and Gabriela Mosquera sponsored to create an alert system for missing persons with mental, intellectual or developmental disabilities was signed into law on Monday.
The new law (A-4270) requires the attorney general to establish the MVP Emergency Alert System, which, similar to the state’s Amber Alert and Silver Alert systems, will provide practices and protocols for the rapid dissemination of information regarding a person who is believed to be a missing vulnerable person.
A “missing vulnerable person” or “MVP” is defined as a person who is believed to have a mental, intellectual or developmental disability and goes missing under circumstances that indicate that the person may be in danger of death or serious bodily injury.
The program is to be a voluntary, cooperative effort between state and local law enforcement agencies and the media.
“This law reflects our collective duty to protect some of the most vulnerable New Jersey residents,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “We must do all we can to ensure missing individuals can return home safe and sound, especially when we have all the necessary resources already in place.”
“When it comes to recovering a person who’s gone missing, we know that time is of the essence and knowledge is power,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “By creating widespread awareness as soon as possible, we can maximize the likelihood that a missing person will be found alive and unharmed.”
“We already have systems in place to alert the public when other vulnerable populations go missing,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “This is another way to aid in the search of individuals who may be at a higher risk of going missing and may have a harder time seeking help because of their disabilities.”
“The first 24 hours are crucial when a person goes missing,” said Spencer (D-Essex). “Having this information publicized quickly and vastly can help law enforcement in their search efforts. The more people know, the better the chances that the individual will be found unharmed.”
“Whenever a person goes missing, having more people on the lookout only increases the likelihood that the individual can return home safely,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This law will help New Jersey residents work together to ensure that those with disabilities are safe in our state.”
“Timing is everything in a missing persons case. That’s even more so when the person who has gone missing has a disability that might make finding them that much more challenging,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Quickly alerting the public about a missing person increases the chances of the person being found safely.”
Under the law, the law enforcement agency receiving the missing person report would be the lead law enforcement agency. The Missing Persons and Child Exploitation Unit in the Division of State Police, upon request, would assist the lead law enforcement agency in the investigation of an MVP Emergency Alert.
An MVP Emergency Alert would be activated only if:
- The person believed to be missing is believed to have a mental, intellectual or developmental disability or defect, regardless of age;
- A missing persons report has been submitted to the local law enforcement agency where the person went missing;
- The person believed to be missing may be in danger of death or serious bodily injury;
- There is sufficient information available to indicate that an MVP Emergency Alert would assist in locating the missing person, including, but not limited to information indicating that, at the time the person went missing, the person was the operator of, a passenger in, or otherwise conveyed by a motor vehicle; and
- Sufficient information is available to disseminate to the public that could assist in locating the person, including, but not limited to, accurate information concerning any motor vehicle the person may have been operating, or in which the person may have been a passenger or otherwise conveyed.
The law specifies that in situations in which a missing vulnerable person is 17 years of age or younger and meets the criteria for an Amber Alert, the guidelines and applicable procedures for Amber Alerts must be followed.
In addition, in situations in which a missing vulnerable person satisfies the criteria for the activation of a Silver Alert, the lead law enforcement agency, in consultation with the Missing Persons and Child Exploitation Unit in the Division of State Police, would be required to determine, based on the totality of circumstances, which system – the Silver Alert System or the MVP Emergency Alert System – would be more effective in assisting to locate the missing vulnerable person, and the guidelines and applicable procedures that should be followed in the particular instance.
When an MVP Emergency Alert is activated, the participating media would transmit emergency alerts to inform the public of a missing vulnerable person with a disability who resides within their broadcast service regions. The notice would be provided through the State Police operational dispatch unit. The alerts would be broadcast as often as possible, pursuant to the guidelines established by the New Jersey Broadcasters' Association, for the first three hours. After the initial three hours, the alert would be rebroadcast at such intervals as the investigating authority, the State Police and the participating media deem appropriate.
The alerts would include a description of the missing vulnerable person, including notice that the missing vulnerable person may appear agitated or upset, instructions as to whether the missing vulnerable person should be approached and, if appropriate, instructions on how to approach the missing vulnerable person, and such other information as the State Police may deem pertinent and appropriate. The alerts also would provide information concerning how members of the public who have information relating to the missing vulnerable person may contact the State Police or other appropriate law enforcement agency.
The attorney general would notify the media serving the state of the establishment of the MVP Emergency Alert System and invite their voluntary participation.
The measure gained unanimous approval from both houses of the legislature.