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Westchester Assemblyman Sponsors Law To Help ID Dead, Missing Persons

State Assemblyman Steve Otis
State Assemblyman Steve Otis Photo Credit: File photo

RYE, N.Y. – Law enforcement agencies seeking to resolve cold cases and family members dealing with the heartbreak of a missing loved one got an important boost from legislation signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The new law, which was sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Otis (D-Rye) and State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), promotes a more comprehensive sharing of fingerprints and other identifying data of unknown decedents by requiring medical examiners and coroners throughout New York to report this identifying information to the National Missing and Unidentified Remains System (NamUs). 

The U.S. Department of Justice created the NamUs database to address the staggering number of human remains that go unidentified each year in this country.

“I am grateful to Governor Cuomo for his support of this legislation, which will increase the probability that human remains can be identified,” said Otis. “New York now becomes one of the first states in the nation to require that information about unidentified decedents be submitted to NamUs. Entering this information into NamUs is a relatively simple process, but it can mean so much to a family struggling with the tragic disappearance of a loved one. If utilizing the NamUs database can help to bring closure to families or assist law enforcement in resolving open criminal cases, it is certainly worth doing.”

While some medical examiners voluntarily convey information about unidentified remains information to the NamUs system, there was no state law requirement to do so. The need for the legislation was brought to Otis’s attention by national bestselling author Jan Burke, who founded the not-for-profit Crime Lab Project to advocate for better funding of crime labs and improvement of forensic science.

“Thanks to this new legislation, death investigation practices concerning unidentified remains will improve. The families of the missing in New York will have a much better chance of learning the fates of their loved ones,” said Burke.

Currently, more than 13,000 unidentified persons are listed in the NamUs database. Of the more than 2,300 cases that have been closed, NamUs has aided in the identification of a third of those unknown decedents.

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