Misty LaPlant says law enforcement agencies around Montana aren’t always able to put extensive resources into missing persons cases.
“There’s a lack of manpower, there’s a lack of police officers, not only across this state but across the nation,” she said. “Sometimes, I feel like missing persons cases sort of fall to the back burner.”
Now, LaPlant serves as an additional resource for those cases. In September, she became the Montana Department of Justice’s missing persons specialist.
The position was created this year, after the Montana Legislature passed House Bill 21, known as “Hanna’s Act.” The bill was part of a package of legislation aimed at addressing the issue of missing and murdered indigenous people, which advocates have called an “epidemic.”
LaPlant is a former Glacier County sheriff’s deputy and Blackfeet law enforcement officer. She said she was excited about bringing new attention to the issue.
“I think having one person really dedicate all their time to looking at this issue and seeing what some of the problems were has helped tremendously,” she said.
LaPlant’s responsibilities cover all parts of the state. One of her chief roles is overseeing the Montana Missing Persons Clearinghouse, a statewide database of missing persons cases. On Sept. 18, when LaPlant took over, the clearinghouse included 179 people – 56 of them Native Americans. As of Nov. 7, the number was down to 154 missing people, including 36 Native Americans.
“There were cases on there where people knew where this missing person was,” said LaPlant. “I was able to network with local law enforcement agencies and other entities, to make sure that these people who we know where they are, are removed from the list.”
She was also able to add some cases from several years ago that had never been put into the database.
LaPlant said she is also working with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services to better address missing and runaway youth in care. She said communication is a key part of what she is doing.
“Communication and building relationships – not only with victims, families, but also law enforcement agencies,” she said. “Having them all work together or getting those conversations started has really helped.”
LaPlant has already spoken to the families of some missing people. She said it’s important for them to have a dedicated person they can speak to.
“On my very first day here, I had several family members from across the state reach out to me and just say, ‘I’m so glad you’re there; these are the things that I want help with for my loved one,’” she said.
She has also given presentations around the state, talking to the public about missing persons cases and addressing some misconceptions.
“There’s a myth that you have to wait for 24 hours or 48 hours before you report someone missing, and that’s not true,” she said. “In fact, there’s no waiting period, and there’s never been a waiting period.”
LaPlant says, as she goes forward in this position, she wants to work with communities across the state to address stigmas and other barriers that keep people from reporting these cases.
“Report people missing,” she said. “For all the people that we have on the list, imagine how many more that aren’t on the list.”
You can view the Montana Missing Persons Clearinghouse online here . If you have any information about any missing persons cases in the state, you can contact LaPlant at (406) 444-3352 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
“I would encourage everyone to reach out to me to talk about resources, get more information – but also, if you see something, say something,” she said. “If you have information about a missing person, you know their whereabouts, call me and I can network with local law enforcement agencies if people aren’t comfortable in doing so.”
LaPlant is also part of the state Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force. The task force will meet for the fourth time Friday, at the Heritage Inn in Great Falls from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.