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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington State Patrol rolls out new alert system to locate missing Native Americans

During a ceremony honoring missing and murdered indigenous women, participants perform a traditional Native American circle dance Tuesday in Desmet, idaho  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Washington State Patrol launched a new system on Friday to help alert drivers to missing Native American people.

The Missing Indigenous Person Alert system will display vehicle descriptions and license plate numbers on electronic highway signs, similar to those for Amber Alerts, with the acronym MIPA, state patrol said. Police hope to educate drivers as much as possible about the MIPA acronym in hopes that it will help locate missing Native American people in Washington.

“This group is in particular peril. Native Americans make up 1.1% of our state population but 5.8% of missing persons in our state right now,” said Washington State Patrol spokesman Chris Loftis. “We have a group that is in unique peril, so we needed to create a unique solution to alleviate that peril.”

There are currently 128 Native American people listed as missing, according to the Washington State Patrol’s latest report from June 13. On average, 102 Native Americans may be listed as missing in Washington state each week, most of whom are reported missing in cities and counties that are not within tribal jurisdiction, according to the state patrol. However, authorities estimate that this number is likely higher because Native American people are often inaccurately reported as white.

The Washington Legislature passed a measure earlier this year mandating that the state police create the MIPA system, as well as a toll-free hotline – (800) 543-5678 – and clearinghouse for missing Native Americans. The measure became law on June 9.

“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,” Carrie Gordon, director of the agency’s Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit, said in a statement.

The state patrol also plans to have a MIPA text notification by the year’s end, Loftis said.

For decades, Native American communities throughout the United States have suffered from high rates of missing people, particularly women, according to the Urban Indian Health Institute.

According to a report from the National Crime Information Center, there were 5,712 reports of missing Native American women in 2016. However, the U.S. Department of Justice’s missing persons database only accounted 116 of those cases.

Any Native American person can be listed on the MIPA system, so long as their disappearance is considered unexplained or involuntary, or if they may be in danger.

“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,” said Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste. “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.”