Push For Federal Law To Allow Families To Instantly Report Missing Adults
Sierra Shields' family hopes the federal government will replicate a New York state measure.
NewsOne has partnered with the Black and Missing Foundation to focus on the crisis of missing African-Americans.
To be a part of the solution, NewsOne will profile missing persons and provide tips about how to keep your loved ones safe and what to do if someone goes missing.
Sierra Shields was a 29-year-old adult when she went missing in January. The flight attendant was last seen leaving her supervisor’s office at LaGuardia Airport. It was unlike her to go days without contacting her family or her roommates. And there was no activity on her financial accounts or social media.
But when the Shields family went to police to report her missing, they say they didn’t receive help.
“We thought once we reported her missing something would happen and that was not the case. My other daughter and her friends had gone to a number of precincts and had tried to get the case filed as a missing person,” Shields’ father Chris Shields told NewsOne in an interview.
Indeed, it was a frustrating endeavor.
“It took almost two days for the NYPD to take my sister’s case. Two days of begging them to understand something wasn’t right. Two days of pleading with them to do something to help,” said Shields’ sister Joy Shields in an online petition.
Until recently in New York, police were not required to immediately report missing adults, ages 18 to 64, to the National Crime Information Center database unless they were considered vulnerable.
But just a few days before Sierra went missing, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed LaMont Dottin’s Law. The measure requires “police to submit reports of missing adults to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database when the adult has a proven disability, may be in physical danger, is missing after a catastrophe, may have disappeared involuntarily or is missing under circumstances where there is a reasonable concern for his or her safety,” according to the office of New York State Sen. James Sanders, who sponsored the legislation along with Brooklyn Assemblyman Charles Barron.
The measure took effect on Nov. 8.
“This is a tremendous victory for families across the state,” Sanders said. “Now when one of our loved ones goes missing, we will have the peace of mind that police will investigate.”
The law is especially important to Blacks and Latinos, who represent a significant portion of those reported missing but receive less media coverage. In 2014, the FBI received 635,155 missing persons reports; 37 percent (239,593 cases) were Blacks or Latinos. The two groups make up 29 percent of the country’s population.
“Over the years, we have seen the number of people reported missing in the United States increase immensely, especially in minority communities, yet there’s not a sense of urgency when minorities disappear – often due to their disappearance falsely being associated with some sort of criminal behavior,” Derrica Wilson, president and co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation, told NewsOne in an interview.
“Oftentimes, the public is misled in believing that victims of abductions and kidnappings are all blonde, blue-eyed and female,” Wilson added.
Barron hopes the new law will help change that.
“You have too many missing persons in the Black and Latino communities that police officers don’t look for because they don’t have to,” said Barron. “We want a break down on the racism in missing persons.”
Shields’ family hopes LaMont Dottin’s Law will become a federal mandate. The law’s namesake was a missing Queens College freshman who left his grandmother’s house on Oct. 18, 1995 to mail a package to his mother Anita Fowler in California. His family was unable to file a police report until almost a month later due to police regulations.
But Dottin’s law came too late to save Shields, whose body was recovered nine months later when it washed up on shore at Rikers Island. Police do not know for sure what happened to Shields and say they may never know.
“I wish the police would have taken action sooner. If we didn’t have to beg and plead and begin our own grassroots effort, maybe the circumstances would be different. But the circumstances aren’t different and my sister is still gone. When someone goes missing time is of the essence and every moment that goes by feels endless,” said Joy Shields. “And now my sister is gone.”
Her father added: “People just don’t go missing. Even if they had chosen to go missing, there are sometimes other factors involved.”
In Shields’ case, friends and family reported that she was not behaving like herself in the days before she went missing
The holidays this year have been difficult for Chris Shields and his family. Normally, Sierra would have been home for Thanksgiving, helping the family put up the Christmas tree.
“We are still grieving and there’s been a lot of adjustments, but I think it’s necessary to help to do whatever we can for this law to become national,” said Shields. “If this could prevent the pain we have experienced, it is a law well worth the paper it is written on.”
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