Montana Legislature: Bill would expedite reports of missing children

Rep. Rae Peppers, D-Lame Deer

(UM Legislative News Service) The House Judiciary Committee is considering a bill that would allow any law enforcement officer in the state to file a missing child report as soon as a child is reported missing.

Bryan Lockerby, the administrator of criminal investigation for the Department of Justice, spoke in favor of the bill during the initial hearing on Monday. He said officers commonly get stuck in details of a case, like jurisdiction or whether or not a case is considered civil or criminal. Lockerby also said months have gone by before cases get properly processed.

“Let’s get that kid into the system and let’s figure out the complicated stuff later,” Lockerby said.

House Bill 20, sponsored by Rep. Rae Peppers, D-Lame Deer, changes “state officers” to “officers in the state,” which removes the question of jurisdiction when filing a missing person report altogether.

Brandi King sits on the Fort Belknap Community Council as the Assiniboine At Large representative. She said the bill would give more power to tribal law enforcement by being able to file a missing child report themselves. Currently, tribal law enforcement cannot fill out a missing child report if they want help from federal or state investigators.

“We have to rely on boots-on-the-ground,” she said. “To hold the integrity of the site, to protect the evidence.”

The proposed law would also let officers treat cases where a parent is keeping a child from their legal guardian as a missing child case, rather than a civil dispute.

Jennifer Viets is the program director for Montana’s Criminal Justice Information Network. She said she commonly receives calls from parents who have gone through the system and should have custody, but the other parent is keeping the child away.

“It is very traumatic to hide a child. They might dye their hair or change their name to conceal them. And that causes damage,” Viets said.

There were no opponents to the bill at the hearing. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on the bill this week.

Tim Pierce is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.