Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey has proposed a new unit to help police improve coordination in handling cases of missing and unidentified persons amid an ongoing search for a missing immigrant woman whose case has been closed. according to lawyers, shows a lack of urgency on the part of the investigators.
The $300,000 Healey has proposed will help fund the unit, which she says will help local police departments and standardize data collection and reporting in missing persons cases statewide.
Reina Morales Rojas, the recent immigrant and resident of Boston, has been missing since November 26, 2022. It wasn’t until January 12, 2023, that the Boston Police Department issued a missing persons alert.
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In February, six Boston city councilors of color sent a letter to Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and Police Commissioner Michael Cox, noting the delay between Rojas’s disappearance and when police issued a warning.
“Unfortunately, the type of response Ms. Morales Rojas’s case received reflects a nationwide pattern. Missing cases of women of color are often not met with the same urgency as their white counterparts,” the councilors wrote. “In this case, Reina is not only a woman of color, but also an immigrant, which further makes her susceptible to dismissive treatment.”
Cox said the investigation is ongoing.
“We’ve been working on that case from day one. As with all investigations, there’s always more you could do, but the fact is we worked very hard,” Cox said. “We need the public’s help to find out where she is or who might have her.”
Wu said the city is supporting police with the investigation and is working to strengthen ties between police and immigrant communities, in part by releasing information in multiple languages.
Democratic Governor of Massachusetts Maura Healey on Wednesday proposed a statewide missing persons unit. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
“We know there is a nationwide, very disturbing trend where women, and often women of color, particularly from immigrant communities or multilingual communities, when they go missing, there is an additional sense of fear in families and mistrust and concern about government. in general.” she said.
As of March 1, 2023, Massachusetts law enforcement had reported a total of 1,927 active cases to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, including 1,908 missing persons and 19 unidentified human remains, according to Healey’s office.
“Having a checklist and protocols would only help,” said Thomas Fowler, chief of the Salisbury Police Department and president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association.
At the end of 2022, the FBI’s National Crime Information Center had 97,127 active missing persons cases. About 41% were children and young people under the age of 21.
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Of the cases, 52,243 were White, 30,285 Black, 2,154 Asian, 1,593 Indian, and 10,852 were of unknown racial background. A total of 43,096 were identified as females and 54,016 as males.
Other states have taken steps to improve their missing persons investigations. Montana and Washington have developed systems to deal with the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples. And a bill in Nevada would make it easier to share reports of missing Native people with law enforcement.
Legislation in Georgia would mandate a cold case unit under the state’s Bureau of Investigation. And the Connecticut senator has been working on a bill that would streamline the missing persons reporting process and ensure state databases are up to date.
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Last year, a federal commission was tasked with improving how the government is handling a decades-long crisis of missing and murdered Alaskan Native Americans and Native Americans.