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OSP removed photographs in July when it started adding adults to the state missing persons clearinghouse

TRIBUNE ILLUSTRATION - A screenshot shows Oregon's missing persons database maintained by the Oregon State Police. Photos were removed from the database by the state police.SALEM — Oregon may be the only state in the nation that maintains an online database of missing persons without including photos of those individuals, according to a review by the Pamplin Media Group/EO Media Capital Bureau of state websites.

Not all states have online databases.

Pamplin Media Group
EO Media GroupOregon State Police stopped posting photographs on the state’s missing children/adults clearinghouse in July 2015, when the agency started adding adults to the database, said OSP spokesman Lt. Bill Fugate. The database previously had been devoted to endangered children.

“When we had photographs included, we were working with less than 100 of the most endangered missing children, and each case was individually posted to multiple pages on the Internet,” Fugate said. “Now that we are posting hundreds of missing children and adults in a semi-automated fashion, it is not possible to obtain and post pictures.”

Rep. Barbara Smith-Warner, D-Portland, who spearheaded legislation in 2015 to improve the state clearinghouse, said she is puzzled by OSP’s decision to remove photos of missing people. “You want a picture of them,” Smith-Warner said. “How else would you recognize them?

“It seems counterproductive to the goal of trying to increase information on that page.”

An automated process

Every state has a clearinghouse for missing persons, which works with law enforcement, families and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to share information about missing persons. At least 60 percent of those have websites that contain either a list of missing persons or a searchable database available to the public.

Several states, such as Arizona, have no online database of missing persons and instead link to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, where visitors can search for missing children by state.

See the state's database here.

Out of 30 states that the Capital Bureau confirmed do have searchable online databases, all of the databases, except Oregon’s, feature photos of missing individuals. Oregon’s neighbors — Washington, California and Idaho — are among that group.

Oregon State Police is looking for ways to introduce an automated process that would include pictures again, but there is no time line for completing that capability, Fugate said. Oregon’s clearinghouse website now includes a searchable list that includes missing persons’ name, age, sex, race, hair and eye color, height, weight and county where they were reported missing. Fugate said the system still works.

“Within less than two months after the new format went live at least two missing people were located by the public using this website,” he said.

In one case, an employer searched for a female employee's name on the Internet and found it on the missing persons clearinghouse, he said.

How will it help?

Oregon State Police removed photos from the database just two months after Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill into law that was intended to improve the missing persons clearinghouse.

House Bill 2601 required law enforcement agencies to report suspected cases of kidnapping and custodial interference to the Oregon State Police Missing Children/Adults Clearinghouse within 24 hours. Without the requirement, some names had been omitted from the state clearinghouse, creating a discrepancy between the number of Oregonians listed as missing on the national and state sites.

House Judiciary Committee Administrator Laura Handzel noted during a Feb. 12, 2015, hearing on the bill that she had counted 43 missing Oregon children on the national clearinghouse, while the Oregon clearinghouse contained only 40 children.

Former lobbyist Sean Cruz, who lost contact with his four children more than 20 years when his ex-wife took them out of state, has been advocating for improvements to child abduction laws and the Oregon clearinghouse for several years. A landmark law in 2005 that allowed civil cause action for the crime of child abduction was named for his son, Aaron Cruz.

Cruz said photos are a crucial part of helping the public identify missing children.

“I don’t understand why there is no photograph,” Cruz said. “How is this going to help anyone find their children?”

By Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau Reporter
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