Maryland’s House and Senate approved “Phylicia’s Law,” a bill intended to improve coordination and communication between law enforcement and community groups when a child goes missing. The bill is named after Phylicia Barnes, a 17-year-old North Carolina high school honors student who went missing while visiting her sister in Baltimore in December 2010. Her body was discovered four months later.
Before voting to approve the bill, Maryland lawmakers heard testimony from missing children advocates and examined state statistics on missing children. According to that data, “on average, 13,500 children are reported as missing each year in Maryland. About 12,000 are located, but state police say there are about 1,500 to 2,000 open cases on any day.”
“Phylicia’s Law” also amends a requirement that police take immediate action in missing children’s cases. The bill raises the age at which immediate police response is mandated from age 14 to 17.
Concerns arose during the 2011 investigation that police officers spent too much time pursuing dead ends that came up with “not much.” It has become a grassroots trend for public outcry to result in legislation named after the young victims of high-profile cases. The Black and Missing Foundation says this bill named in memory of Barnes, who was black, could be the first named after a missing minority child.
In the month following Barnes’ disappearance, her mother, Janice Sallis, responded to questions about whether her daughter’s disappearance could receive more attention. Sallis stated, “My daughter is not the only child that’s missing. Other children need their time, too.” If “Phylicia’s Law” does open more channels of communication and accelerate search efforts, other mothers and family members might benefit from Sallis’ philosophy.