Bill Would Create MVP Emergency Alert System
(TRENTON) – Assembly approved legislation Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Daniel Benson, Gabriela Mosquera, L. Grace Spencer and Benjie Wimberly sponsored to create an alert system for missing persons with mental, intellectual or developmental disabilities continues advancing.
The bill (A-2709) would require the Attorney General to establish the MVP Emergency Alert System, which would 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 to mean a person who is believed to have a mental, intellectual or developmental disability who goes missing under circumstances that indicate that the person may be in danger of death or serious bodily injury.
The program would be a voluntary, cooperative effort between state and local law enforcement agencies and the media.
The bill was approved by the Assembly in December and released Monday by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
“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.”
“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 bill will help New Jersey residents work together to ensure that those with developmental disabilities are safe in our state.”
Under the bill, 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 person’s 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 bill specifies that, in situations where 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 where 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 developmental 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 would also 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.
When a determination is made by the lead agency, and agreed with by the State Police, that sufficient information indicates that, when the person went missing, the person was the operator of, a passenger in, or otherwise conveyed by a motor vehicle, the State Police operational dispatch unit will be required, concurrent with the notice provided to the broadcast media, to notify the Department of Transportation, the New Jersey Highway Authority, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, and the South Jersey Transportation Authority of the MVP Emergency Alert.
Through the use of their variable message signs, the department and the affected authorities would inform the motoring public that an MVP Emergency Alert is in progress and provide information relating to the missing vulnerable person and how motorists may report information to the State Police or other appropriate law enforcement agency. The State Police operational dispatch unit would also ensure that employees of the New Jersey Transit Corporation and adult school crossing guards who are on duty at any time when the MVP Emergency Alert is in effect receive notice of the MVP Emergency Alert, along with all pertinent information regarding the missing vulnerable person. The State Police would be required to provide timely updates with new information when appropriate. The alerts would terminate upon notice from the State Police.
The Attorney General would notify the media serving the state of the establishment of the MVP Emergency Alert System and invite their voluntary participation. Additionally, and with the assistance of the participating media, the Attorney General would develop and undertake a public education campaign to inform the public about the MVP Emergency Alert System. The Missing Persons Investigative Best Practices Protocol Unidentified Deceased Persons Investigative Guidelines, promulgated by the Missing Persons and Child Exploitation Unit in the Division of State Police, would be revised to incorporate procedures for issuing an MVP Emergency Alert. The guidelines and procedures would be required to ensure that specific health information about the missing vulnerable person not be made public through the alert or otherwise.