Division of Criminal Investigation Updates Missing Person Web Page  

New features added to encourage public help in locating missing people

The Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) is set to roll out a new missing person page on its website on Oct. 2 . The web page will feature enhanced capabilities to enter cases in real time, as well as features to help the public assist with cases. (Courtesy photo from Ryan Cox)

By Jennifer Kocher

Special to the Wyoming Truth

The Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) is scheduled to roll out updates to its missing person section of its website Monday with real-time features to help track missing people and generate new tips.

The enhancements follow the creation of a public-facing missing person web page in September 2021 in accordance with a state statute that requires the agency to serve as a central repository and clearinghouse for missing persons from across Wyoming.

A major improvement of the web page, according to Ryan Cox, a DCI commander who also oversees cold cases, is that both law enforcement and the public will be able to view missing person cases as soon as they are entered into the DCI database.

“The new platform allows for immediate viewing of select information from our internal database, so viewers may briefly see missing people that were quickly located,” Cox said in an email to the Wyoming Truth. “The previous web page required multiple steps to publish the information. Hence, missing people that were quickly found were never published.” 

DCI Commander Ryan Cox said the newly improved webpage will aid both law enforcement and the public, while saving the agency time. (Courtesy photo from the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation website) 

Other features will allow the public to view information previously not available, download missing person flyers and search by new categories, including the date range and county in which the person disappeared, names, aliases and race.

Entries will now include details about the individual, date of last contact, current age and the number of the days they’ve been missing. The web page also will feature contact information for anonymous tips.

Public engagement in helping to share flyers and submit tips was one of the driving factors of the newly designed page, Cox said.

“We have received great interest from the public when we released the previous version of our missing person’s page,” Cox said. “The revamping of the platform was in response to all the interest, knowing the public would benefit by being provided the ability to filter data to areas of their concern.”

Cox said the agency hopes that public interest will also help generate leads for local law enforcement agencies handling cases.

The redesign came at no cost to the agency other than manpower, Cox said. He worked with Katie Koskelowski, record analyst at DCI who oversees the website. Cox recommended the free Google Looker Studio program, which he currently uses for DCI statistical tracking.

How cases are reported

Though members of the public can submit tips, all missing person cases need to be reported to local law enforcement agencies in the county in which the individual vanished. Local police departments and sheriff offices typically handle the “boots on the ground” investigation unless they call DCI in to help, Cox clarified.

Once a person is reported missing, the case is entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), which is overseen by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. DCI personnel receive notification of the new entry, which they enter into the state’s missing person database, Cox said.

“Unfortunately, it is not a cut and paste,” he said. “As the information is entered, it will be available to the public.”

Then, DCI terminal personnel construct the narrative from information entered into NCIC, and at times, from local law enforcement’s press releases and social media posts.

“This step is why users will see basic information immediately, but no narrative, as the narrative is created from bits and pieces of the NCIC entry,” Cox said, noting the new web page will reduce display time by half.

Desiree Tinoco, executive director of the nonprofit and Facebook page Missing People of Wyoming, was instrumental in helping DCI with its first missing person database that was launched in Sept. 2021. (Courtesy photo from Desiree Tinoco)

“Information is displayed in real time as it is entered,” Cox said, “where before the information was entered into the database, then later, re-entered onto the web page.”

Clearing cases

The majority of missing person cases in Wyoming are typically cleared within a day or week of being reported, statistics show.  

In 2022, Wyoming law enforcement reported 381 missing persons, according to a report by the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center (WYSAC), compared to 388 the year prior.

Of those cases reported in 2021, law enforcement closed 25% of them on the same day and an additional 55% within a week of the initial report being entered into NCIC, according to WYSAC findings.

As of September 2023, there are currently 86 people still missing in Wyoming, dating back to 1974, according to DCI numbers.

Desirée Tinoco, executive director of the nonprofit Missing People of Wyoming and administrator of its Facebook page, advocated for DCI’s revamping of its missing person database in 2021. She is pleased with the state’s increased focus on bringing missing people home and collaborates with DCI to verify cases that are posted and shared on the group’s page.

“Since 2021, the DCI missing person’s database has been a wonderful tool and resource that does not take away time and resources from agencies throughout the state,” Tinoco said. “Several cases that would have otherwise not received attention have been publicized due to the database.”

This includes those who have been missing for decades like Rocky Najera, who disappeared in June 1985.

Tinoco said having missing person cases available in real-time is a huge improvement over the former database. She warned that people might see an uptick in missing person cases with the new web page design, especially teenage runaways, who are typically located the same day or within days of going missing.

According to the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children, one-third of children under 18 are recruited into the underground world of prostitution and pornography within 48 hours of being out on the streets.

“The majority of runaways are found within a short amount of time,” Tinoco said. “But, unfortunately, some of them aren’t, and it’s important that we take all cases seriously.”

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