DC Law to Penalize Parents Who Don’t Report Missing Kids

(Image: Elvert Barnes, Creative Commons)

(Image: Elvert Barnes, Creative Commons)

The search for eight-year-old Relisha Rudd continues more than two years after she was last seen with a custodian at the D.C. General Homeless Shelter on March 1, 2014. Because of this tragedy, the Requirement to Report Missing Children Amendment Act of 2016 has been introduced by co-sponsors Council Members LaRuby May and Jack Evans.

The measure was created because Relisha Rudd might not still be missing if her mother had not waited until March 19, over two weeks, to notify police that her daughter had disappeared.

The bill would require a parent or guardian of a young person who turns up missing to contact authorities within 24 hours of knowing the child could not be found while in their custody. When children aged 13 to 18 go missing, parents would have 48 hours to contact police.

Any parent who violates the law or who provides erroneous information to hinder the investigation could be charged with a misdemeanor.

The custodian, Kahlil Tatum, worked at the same shelter where Rudd and her mother, Shamika Young, and siblings lived. Her mother was aware that her daughter had been with Tatum, but 18 days later, it was a counselor at the child’s school who contacted the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency.

When asked why she waited so long to contact police about her daughter’s disappearance, Young said:

“I wasn’t under the impression she was missing. I thought she was at my sister’s house,” Young said. “I didn’t want to lose my other three kids. That’s why I didn’t call the police.”

The bill, known unofficially as the “Relisha Rudd law,” was sent to the D.C. Council Judiciary Committee. It notes that teachers, social workers, and those with similar responsibilities would be charged with a misdemeanor if they do not report a missing minor who had a handicap, who disappeared in a suspicious manner, could have been kidnapped, or who had been abducted previously.

The act gives the mayor the responsibility of authorizing penalties. May’s office says the councilwoman’s bill was sparked by a Change.org petition from Rebecca Taylor, a citizen reformer, that garnered 2,000 signatures.

“Relisha’s disappearance is tragic and perhaps if she were reported missing sooner, she would have been found,” the petition reads.

Michael Austin, May’s legislative director, explained that the bill is a compilation of similar legislation in other states, including California, Maryland, and Maine, where it is known as “Caylee’s Law.” Caylee Anthony was a toddler from Florida who was missing for a month before her disappearance was reported, says Rachel Kurzius of Gothamist.

Austin continued by stating:

“One thing Councilmember May was afraid of was that it would only affect black families and people in Wards 7 and 8. They’re not really going to enforce this in Ward 3, where there’s less police presence. We really tried to narrow it so we weren’t pulling kids from their families. We’re trying to find ways to help the children, but we’re not trying to put mothers behind bars.”

May said in an interview with Ellison Barber of WUSA-TV that the law would not affect parents who did not have the child in their custody when the disappearance took place. For example, if a child is away at camp and goes missing, there would naturally be a certain amount of time before the custodial parent would be aware of the child’s status. She added this was addressed in the legislation.