Montana filling gaps in missing persons programs, services

May 21, 2019
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, right, outlines plans to implement the handful of missing persons legislation the passed out of the legislative session Tuesday, May 21, 2019, in Helena, Mont. Fox said Tuesday the Department of Justice has posted the job description for a missing persons specialist in his office. (Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Attorney General Tim Fox has his timeline for implementing legislation to improve communication and collaboration among law enforcement agencies as they investigate missing persons cases.

Fox said Tuesday the Department of Justice has posted the job description for a missing persons specialist in his office. That person will coordinate with local, state, federal and tribal law enforcement agencies to improve reporting and searching for missing people. He hopes to have that person on board by July 1. The salary range is between $49,600 and $59,550 a year.

Fox has also asked the state’s eight tribes for nominations by Friday for a new Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force, which is set to hold its first meeting on June 11. The group will identify communication shortfalls and offer suggestions to improve collaboration as well as administer a grant program for a tribal college to develop a database of missing tribal members.

The Department of Justice worked with the State Tribal Relations Interim Legislative Committee to propose legislation, including a bill that requires the first law enforcement agency that’s contacted to accept a missing persons report and enter it into a database, rather than directing the person to another jurisdiction, such as the one where the missing person was last seen.

The legislation was prompted by criticism that when women and children go missing on Montana’s reservations, the reports may not be taken seriously or adequately shared with other agencies.

“As often is the case, problems in our society ... rise to a crescendo where they finally get attention,” Fox said. “I think as we’ve talked about the barriers, a lot of it has been misunderstandings about who’s responsible and how things work.”

The Department of Justice, the U.S. attorney’s office in Montana and others are holding a daylong training on June 12 in Helena for law enforcement and members of the public focusing on missing Native Americans, human trafficking and using missing persons alerts and advisories.

Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is holding a ceremonial signing Thursday for the missing persons bills along with other legislation impacting Montana’s Indian tribes.

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