In search for missing, State Police unit plays vital role
"Between 98 and 99 percent of those people are located, recovered, or identified," Lt. Louis Andrinopoulos, the head of the state police's Missing Persons and Child Exploitation Unit, told mycentraljersey.com. "That's because of officers' training and their commitment to find these people."
The missing persons unit, which consists of one civilian analyst and eight troopers, was established by legislation in 1984. It is one of the few law enforcement units in the United States that comprehensively addresses the many facets of the missing-persons problem.
The missing persons unit "is the clearinghouse" for the state of New Jersey," Andrinopoulos said.
"We have an idea of who is missing and can query databases to see if there are possible matches," he said. "We also get involved when a local, county, state, or federal agency needs assistance with cases - from a missing child to an unidentified person."
The unit, which works closely with the FBI, also investigates human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children and provides specialized training to law enforcement personnel and medical examiners throughout the state.
Andrinopoulos said the majority of people reported missing are between the ages of 14 and the mid-20s.
"When you query the databases, the younger the people are - under 10 or 11 - the less missing people there are in that age group," the lieutenant said. "That is a very serious, high-risk age group."
When a child goes missing, it should be reported to police, Andrinopoulos said. The information is then forwarded to the county prosecutor's child abduction response team coordinator.
In 2008 then-Attorney General Anne Milgram signed a child abduction directive, which established 21 child abduction response teams within county prosecutor's offices, he said.
"These are trained, competent people," he said. "They enter the person in NCIC as missing and do their police work. If they need our help, they know we are here to assist them with manpower or whatever else they need. We don't take over their investigation. We're here to assist them if they need."
In a child-abduction case, time is of the essence, Andrinopoulos said, adding, "We have a plan in place and so do the county response teams."
Statistically, he said, with child-abduction cases, as the length of time the child is missing increases, there is more risk of the child being killed.
Nationally, 40 percent of abducted children are dead before they are even reported missing, he said.
But not everyone whose child is missing makes a report immediately to police, he said.
"Sometimes they try to find the child themselves," Andrinopoulos said. "I recommend filing a missing report as soon as they notice something out of the ordinary."
And there is no waiting period for reporting a missing person, the lieutenant said.
Patricia's Law, signed by Gov. Jon S. Corzine in 2008, says police cannot turn residents away from filing a missing-person report and there is no waiting period for reporting a missing adult or child, he said.
But, he said, sometimes people are never reported missing.
Andrinopoulos added that there is no clear-cut way to find a missing person.
"There are just so many variables," he said.
Over the years, advancements in technology have changed the course of missing-person and unidentified-person investigations.
"Technology helps with our investigation and the way we share information," he said. "There's DNA, which helps identify decedents. You have legislation that has established child response teams. You have Amber Alert legislation and you have better training between the federal government and our unit, which is provided to people."
Social media also are a valuable asset.
"We post people to a website," Andrinopoulos said. "We send things out on Twitter and Nixle. It's a whole different world now. Communication has advanced so much and law enforcement seeks the public's assistance on jobs like that. We also send out information to our detectives by smartphones.
"There are so many things that in 1991 did not exist," he said, "and come 20 years from now there are going to be so many more things that exist that didn't exist today. It's an ever-evolving science."
Additional information is available by contacting the New Jersey State Police at 609-882-2000. Information also is available from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at www.missingkids.com. A 24-hour hotline with the national center can be accessed by calling 1-800-THE-LOST or 1-800-843-5678.