The Missing Indigenous Person Alert (MIPA) system, a new statewide alert system for missing Indigenous people, went into effect on Friday.
The alert system adds a specific designation to the endangered missing alert systems already in place, which include Amber Alerts for missing children and Silver Alerts for missing seniors.
“This is a significant step for our state and agency,” said Carrie Gordon, director of Washington State Patrol’s Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit. “We know that Indigenous people go missing at a significantly higher rate than the general population. WSP currently has two full time tribal liaisons that work with tribal law enforcement and advocacy groups to coordinate state communications and response to this issue. The new MIPA system will be one more tool in rapid response by the state that will hopefully allow us to find and assist Indigenous people who are in danger.”
On average, 102 Indigenous persons are reported missing in Washington state each week, according to information published by the Washington State Patrol (WSP).
“The actual number of missing Native Americans is likely much higher, as Native persons are often inaccurately reported or listed as white in law enforcement databases,” stated WSP in a news release. “Washington State Patrol is finding ways to connect state, tribal and federal resources to create partnerships to find ways to solve this crisis facing Native communities.”
Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill creating MIPA on March 31. Since then, WSP has been working with tribal law enforcement, municipal and federal law enforcement, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and other state agencies, as well as cable systems and state broadcasters, to prepare MIPA for activation.
“Hopefully, like our other alerts, the system will not be needed very often. But when it is needed and used, we feel it can be a very helpful tool in recovery,” said Gordon.
According to WSP, MIPA will be activated when:
Once a MIPA is activated, all Washington law enforcement will be notified electronically and the Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit will distribute the information via email and fax to a list of subscribers, according to WSP.
The investigating agency will also notify the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children if the missing person is 21 years old or under.
If there is a vehicle associated with the disappearance and information on the vehicle’s make, model, color or license plate number is available, WSDOT’s regional Transportation Management Centers will use electronic highway signs, also called variable message signs, and the highway advisory radio system to publicize the information.
WSDOT will begin displaying known vehicle information on the variable message signs and highway advisory radios in appropriate areas when a MIPA is activated, according to WSP. In addition, cable and local broadcasters will be alerted and have the information for appropriate distribution to their audiences.
“We are very appreciative of the leadership, assistance, and support of the state’s legislature on this matter. Their allocation of the funds needed for both the technical and personnel costs associated with expanding our missing person alert systems has made this Missing Indigenous Person Alert system possible. It is the first like it in the United States and we are hopeful it will be a powerful tool in location and recovery efforts,” said WSP Chief John R. Batiste.
The variable message signs are important tools in many recoveries but alerts are only placed on them if a known vehicle is involved, so not every alert issued by WSP will be posted on highway signs or on the highway radio alert system, according to WSP.
Not every missing person qualifies for the specific alerts in WSP’s system, according to WSP. Specifically, situations where a person can return on their own but chooses not to, there are no indicators of foul play or there is inadequate identifying information may not qualify for inclusion.
For more information on missing persons alerts in Washington state, visit https://www.wsp.wa.gov/crime/alerts-missing-persons/.