(TRENTON) – Legislation introduced by Assembly Democrats Pamela R. Lampitt, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Daniel Benson, Gabriela Mosquera and Grace L. Spencer to facilitate the immediate circulation of information about missing persons with developmental disabilities was approved Thursday by the General Assembly.
The bill (A-2709) would establish the “Gold Alert System,” a cooperative effort between law enforcement agencies and media outlets to broadcast emergency alerts about missing persons with developmental disabilities. The alerts would include physical descriptions and other pertinent details. Under the bill, consent must be obtained prior to disseminating information about the person who is believed to be missing.
“This legislation 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.”
“Timing is everything in a missing persons case. Even more so when the person who has gone missing has developmental disabilities 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.”
“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.”
Under the legislation, a Gold Alert would be activated when a local law enforcement agency receives a missing persons report for an individual with a developmental disability. The State Police would aid in the investigation of the alert upon request from the local agency. In cooperation with law enforcement, participating media covering the missing person’s broadcast service region would transmit the alert to the public.
The legislation bears similarity to the Amber Alert and Silver Alert systems, which are designated to help locate abducted children and lost individuals with dementia or other cognitive impairments, respectively.
The bill was approved 66-0-2 and now heads to the Senate for further consideration.