The BIA, Office of Justice Services established the Missing and Murdered Unit to focus on analyzing and solving missing and murdered and human trafficking cases involving American Indians and Alaska Natives. Investigators and other specialists work to leverage tribal, federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, and other stakeholders to enhance the criminal justice system and address the legitimate concerns of AI/AN communities, regarding missing and murdered people – specifically missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
The Missing and Murdered Unit is unique in OJS in that it has the ability to marshal law enforcement resources across the Office of Justice Services and was given an expanded ability to collaborate efforts with other agencies, such as enhancing the DOJ’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), and developing strategic partnerships with additional stakeholders such as the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Units (BAU’s), the FBI Forensic Laboratory, the US Marshals Missing Child Unit (MCU) and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
In addition to reviewing unsolved cases, the MMU works with Tribal, BIA and FBI Investigators on active missing and murdered investigations. BIA law enforcement have numerous open cases agents are investigating.
How the MMU Was Established
On April 1, 2021, Secretary Haaland announced the formation of the Missing and Murdered Unit (MMU), a component of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Office of Justice Services (OJS). Secretary Haaland charged the MMU with the responsibility of providing leadership and direction for cross-departmental and interagency work involving missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The MMU commands law enforcement resources across OJS and has expanded OJS's ability to collaborate with other agencies working to solve unsolved cases. An important partner in this effort is the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which works closely with the MMU to coordinate a centralized intake process for missing and murdered case referrals and conducts investigative activities on current and previously unsolved investigations. The MMU also meets frequently with Tribal, State and County law enforcement programs to discuss case referrals received by the MMU or the FBI.
MMU's Workforce and Responsibilities
Headquartered in Albuquerque, NM, the MMU is continuing to hire senior positions to begin stakeholder collaboration, policy development, and provide oversight of agents conducting field investigations. From 2021-2022, 17 MMU offices across 11 states were established, and staffed by at least one MMU agent.
Since the Unit's establishment, the MMU has hired and retained 15 special agents to review and investigate acute cases referred to the MMU. The MMU is in the process of filling 5 vacant special agent positions.
- The MMU is adding an additional 20 agents;15 positions are awaiting action by Human Resources and new position descriptions are in draft for 5 for new positions. At full capacity, the MMU may employee nearly 65 employees nationwide.
- A Deputy Unit Chief and four regional agents in charge will provide oversight.
- A Program Analyst and Program Specialist now support the MMU to collect and analyze performance data and coordinate administrative and programmatic responsibilities.
As of FY 22, Agents are located
New Agents and New Locations for FY23
In total, the Unit is responsible for:
- Gathering intelligence on active missing and murdered cases,
- Reviewing and prioritizing cases for assignment to investigative teams,
- Developing investigative plans to guide investigators,
- Identify any outside resources that could benefit their investigative efforts and coordinating those resources with their investigative team,
- Management of the tips submitted to Tip411, the Cold Case email and 1-800 line
- Assigning and investigating cases,
- Coordinating with other stakeholders,
- Preparing investigative reports,
- Analyzing current missing-person protocols, and
- Developing missing-person response guidelines.
The Unit is led by a Unit Chief who is responsible for stakeholder collaboration, ongoing policy development and overall performance of the unit.
- Supervisory Special Agents (SSA’s) assist the Unit Chief by providing day-to-day supervision of the Special Agents in the field.
- Program Analysts develop the collection and analysis of performance data;
- Program Specialists coordinate administrative and programmatic responsibilities; and
- Victim Specialists to help coordinate services with the families of victims.
Administrative Milestones Achieved by the MMU in 2022
There were several key milestones the MMU achieved in Fiscal Year 2022.
- Formalized the MMU Standard Operating Procedures for conducting MMU investigations.
- Established the MMU Victim Services Program that will be comprised of five victim specialists to provide support to the families of the victims with potential growth based on the number of cases identified in a specific locality within the US.
- In 2022 two victim specialists were hired.
- In 2023, the MMU began hiring three additional victim services employees, two are awaiting starting dates, and one is being re-advertised.
- Established a MMU Case Intake Process to standardize how agents receive and review cases for solvability and investigation.
- Hired Evidence Technicians who are now in training to implement new technologies to assist MMU Agents with processing crime scenes.
- On December 10, 2022, the BIA launched a website for the primary purpose of generating tips from the public about active cases that may help law enforcement give closure to victims' families. This website leverages the power of internet and social media, so that case information may be quickly shared through digital means to encourage the evidence and assist with search and rescue/recovery efforts underwater.
- Establishing four Crime Scene Mapping Stations to provide 3-D regeneration of crime scenes.
- Gaining access to an open-source intelligence platform to assist with finding persons or investigative leads.
- Contracting certified laboratory services to establish and provide a dedicated DNA/Genealogy Crime Lab. The MMU will share these services with other OJS Criminal Investigations or Tribal law enforcement departments that are investigating cases involving missing or murdered AI/AN cases.
- Purchasing five Crime Scene Vehicles evidence technicians can use to process crime scenes.
Since the MMU was established, it has invested in and implemented several new capabilities and technologies to assist in finding evidence and closing cases. These include:
- Purchasing and providing training on how to use Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) and underwater Oceano bionics.
- GPR provides imagery of what lies underground, which may be used to assist with finding evidence, human remains, etc.
- Oceano bionics includes underwater radar, camera, and robotic arm that are used to identify possible.
- Working with families to explain the complicated legal process that occurs as a case develops into a prosecutable case for submission to the Tribal and Federal courts. This provides families and next of kin a better understanding of why case information cannot always be shared while an active case is developing.
- Bringing humanity to the cases by helping investigators understand what families need throughout the process.
- Communicating to families that the ultimate, goal of all the parties is to hold offenders accountable to bring justice and closure for a family.