NSW Police Force establishes new unit to investigate and coordinate long-term missing persons' cases

A NEW unit to investigate and coordinate long-term missing persons' cases has been established by the NSW Police Force.

In 2017, as part of re-engineering, NSW Police Commissioner Michael Fuller initiated a comprehensive review and analysis of the Missing Persons Unit (MPU) functions.

The evaluation identified various areas for improvement and recommended significant structural and procedural changes to meet current and future demands.

Commissioner Fuller announced the emergence of Project Aletheia, a State Crime Command-led initiative, on Monday to dissolve the MPU and implement a new structure that will draw on the expertise of specialist detectives and analysts.

"It is clear that change is needed," he said.

"I have delegated responsibility to the State Crime Command to ensure we can do everything we can to put policies, procedures, and checkpoints in place to rectify past problems and create solutions for now and into the future.

"To have a loved one go missing has a devastating impact on the person's family and friends and while police do an outstanding job in providing support for the families, we are committed to providing outcomes.

"It needs to be acknowledged that families of missing persons have not been given the answers they have been seeking, and this is not acceptable.

"We owe it to the people of NSW to deliver better outcomes for families of missing persons and vulnerable people who are most at risk of going missing - those living with a mental illness, young people, and older people with dementia or memory loss - to ensure every opportunity is explored to find loved ones - wherever they may be."

The Upper Hunter was recently in the spotlight, courtesy of a $1 million reward for information concerning the disappearance of Janine Vaughan.

The 31-year-old, who grew up in Muswellbrook and went to school at Scone, was last seen getting into a small red vehicle in Keppel Street, Bathurst, in the early hours of December 7, 2001, after a night out with friends.

Her family still seeks answers, almost two decades later, as to what happened to her.

Project Aletheia will involve the formation of the Missing Persons Registry (MPR) within State Crime Command in a new state-of-the-art facility, which is currently under development.

A team of seven detectives and four analysts - including those with qualifications and expertise in psychology and data matching - will work to resolve current long-term missing person cases and provide assistance to frontline police to improve the initial response to missing persons' reports.

State Crime Commander Acting Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith said the MPR would utilise cutting edge technology and leverage techniques used in the investigations of serious and organised crime.

"Project Aletheia - meaning seeker of truth - is the largest missing persons data matching project in Australia and will revolutionise the way missing persons cases are managed and investigated," he explained.

"The first process - which is expected to take months - is to digitise existing records and implement new systems.

"We are going to use every technological advancement available to us - whether that be ancestral mapping or biometric photos - that are capable of generating matches - to locate people and provide answers in cases which date back more than 60 years.

"With technology advancing every day, we will be innovative in the way we pursue investigations and continue to seek new developments in the future to solve cases."

In recent months - and through the implementation of new systems under Project Aletheia - more than 30 cases have been resolved, with 13 people located offshore or interstate.

In addition, a joint-agency project between officers from the NSW Police Force and forensic and scientific experts from NSW Health Pathology, which was established in March 2018, will continue to progress the resolution of unidentified human remains cases.

"This is a complex project, which begins with the reconciliation of records - many of which are historic and in hard copy - followed by various forensic processes and inquiries to find a match," Acting Assistant Commissioner Smith said.

'We are committed to ensuring the most effective and efficient allocation of resources in order to maximise our capability and provide answers to families of missing persons."

The MPR will draw upon the expertise of specialist investigators across the NSW Police Force and law enforcement and intelligence partners both here and abroad.