(HELENA) The State-Tribal Relations Committee brainstormed ideas on Friday for improving the response to cases of missing children and human trafficking in the state.
Bryan Lockerby, Division Administrator with the Division of Criminal Investigation, said law enforcement is the main agency that handles missing persons reports. From there, the Criminal Justice Information Network - known as CJIN - connects with the FBI database of missing persons.
CJIN supervisor Jennifer Viets told the legislative committee that five tribal agencies including Blackfeet and Crow are connected to that network, which allows them to review the profiles of missing people. The Rocky Boy reservation is in the process of connecting to the network to access those services as well.
Viets said Native Americans in the state have a higher number of missing persons, but that could be because native American parents sometimes don't notify authorities when a child is later located after a missing persons report is filed.
"I get to look across the table and see my kids and my grand kids. I know where they are. I know that they're safe. I talk to parents occasionally at the clearing house that don't know that. And that's heartbreaking,” Viets said before the committee.
Viets said CJIN would like to expand its missing persons services to adults. At present, state law only allows the agency to track missing children. CJIN also lacks a dedicated budget and staff. Viets said current DCI staff usually put other items on the back burner in order to work on urgent CJIN matters.
Other tribal representatives also spoke Friday about human trafficking, noting that a lack of housing on some of the reservations has forced older teenagers onto the streets, making them more vulnerable to human trafficking.
Lawmakers also considered the idea of asking the Office of Public Instruction to provide up-to-date photos of students so the Montana Missing Persons Clearinghouse can distribute the photo along with an alert.
The Missing Children Act of 1985 established a Montana Missing Persons Clearinghouse within the Department of Justice. The department hosts a searchable database of missing persons that is updated in real time and includes photos. To access the database, click here.