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Enhance Capabilities to Resolve Long Term Missing and Unidentified Persons Cases at the New York City Office of Medical Examiner.

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Awardee County
New York
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $500,000)

Unidentified persons (UP) cases present some of the most complex challenges to medicolegal investigators, particularly in New York City—a dense metropolitan jurisdiction home to diverse communities and with high tourism rates. The New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner (NYC OCME) currently manages over 1,200 unidentified persons cases from across the five boroughs of New York City, making it one of the largest jurisdictional contributors to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) in the United States. The NYC OCME has made significant advancements over the years, forming dedicated Forensic Anthropology, Identifications and Family Outreach, and Forensic Biology Units who work collaboratively with District Attorney (DA) Offices, the New York City Police Department (NYPD), local and federal government partners, foreign consulates, and non-profit organizations to comprehensively investigate and resolve UP cases.

    This proposal aims to expand current identification initiatives and utilize newly available investigative techniques and DNA technologies to address UP cases that date back to the late 1980s. This will be accomplished by compiling biological and contextual case information, updating modern databases (i.e., NamUs, NCIC, ViCAP), employing advancements in DNA testing for CODIS upload, and working with collaborators to conduct thorough unidentified and missing persons searches. In order to resolve long-term UP cases in NYC, the NYC OCME requests support from the BJA (Purpose Area 2 Priority Consideration 1A) to fund updated identification investigations, in-house DNA sequencing and CODIS upload, biometric data collection, and complete dental charting on long-term UP cases that predate modern technologies. This support would also fund forensic genetic genealogy for unidentified homicide victims when all other efforts have been exhausted. The NYC OCME will employ a tiered workflow to include the following phases: 1) Review Case Information, 2) Comprehensive Missing Persons Search, 2a) Potential Match Assessment, 3) UP Database Audit, and 3a) UP Case Completion and Biometric Documentation. These phases are cyclical, allowing for investigative leads and case developments to inform identification efforts. This approach relies on collaboration between the NYC OCME and numerous outside governmental and non-governmental agencies to integrate advanced forensic technologies, updated cold case investigation techniques, and community outreach to generate meaningful leads. Through this grant funding, the NYC OCME aims to target hundreds of long-term UP cases for additional identification efforts and hopefully provide answers to anxious families who have been waiting months, years, and even decades to locate a missing loved one.

Date Created: September 8, 2023