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In-Depth: Death of Gabby Petito sheds light on important issues

Posted at 5:35 PM, Sep 21, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — Gabby Petito's disappearance and death bring up several important issues.

Domestic Violence:

The New England Journal of Medicine published an article about domestic violence increasing because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some facts they offer:

  • One in four women in America will experience intimate partner violence in their lives.
  • One in ten American men will experience intimate partner violence.
  • Among the circumstance that make violence more likely, several seem present in Petito's relationship with Brian Laundrie: economic instability, lack of social support, and substantial isolation.

Missing persons:

The National Criminal Information Center (NCIC) keeps track of missing persons reports and resolved cases. The kind of case that involved Petito would have been considered a situation where there would be reason to fear physical harm.

The NCIC counted 41,667 such reports in 2020 and they "purged" 41,571 cases the same year, meaning there was some kind of resolution to the case (which could be a positive or negative outcome). In other words, active cases in that category saw a net increase of 96.

Law enforcement in and around national parks:

The National Park Service enforces laws in the boundaries of their 423 sites with law enforcement rangers. USA Today published an article showing a 20 percent decline in law enforcement rangers in the decade preceding 2018, when they employed 1,766.

NPS sites saw about 318 million visitors that year, meaning they employed one officer for every 180,000 visitors and one officer for every 48,000 of the park service's 85 million square miles.

Second issue: Missing persons:

NCIC statistics show 543,000 missing person's reports in the U.S. in 2020. Most are under 21 in non-threatening circumstances, but think of custody disputes or young adults leaving and coming back. Almost all are resolved. In addition, 54,902 reports involved physical threats or kidnapping, but in 2020 the NCIC found 54,687 of those cases resolved. At the end of 2020, there were 215 more open cases of this kind that at the end of 2019.

Third issue: Law enforcement in and around national parks:

USA today reports there were 1,766 law enforcement rangers working the 423 sites in the National Park System in 2018. That's one ranger for every 180 thousand visitors, and one ranger for every 48 thousand square miles. Federal law enforcers do a lot of dangerous jobs. The most dangerous: Park Ranger.

A study several years ago showing they have been assaulted and killed more than agents of any federal agency. The same issues face gateway communities like Moab and Springdale in Utah, where small police departments handle millions of annual visitors.