Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Appendix A: Summary of Responses to Missing Persons

The table below summarizes the responses to missing persons, the mechanism by which they are intended to work, the conditions under which they ought to work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.

Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If…Considerations
General Considerations for an Effective Response Strategy
1Collaborating with other agenciesFacilitates searches for, recoveries of, and prevention of missing persons....confidentiality issues are addressed in memoranda of understanding; participants meet regularly and share information and concerns; case information is shared with NCIC, NCMEC, NamUs; custody order and protective orders are shared among involved agenciesSome collaborations will be for services, training, or information exchange; need to assess agencies' capacity for new referrals; collaborations cannot violate information privacy regulations; avoid interagency conflicts through transparency and shared missions
2Training police and other emergency response personnelIncreases understanding of types of missing persons and improves searches, investigations, recoveries, and is relevant to all personnel and covers diversity of missing-population issuesTraining will need to be updated and repeated
3Educating the publicPromotes prompt reporting, improves information to aid search, and improves audience includes high-risk groups such as schoolchildren, prostitutes and homeless; message extends beyond stranger abductionsToo much information may saturate the public and either cause less attention to be paid to missing persons or an overestimated view of the likelihood of rare types of missing-person cases
Specific Responses to Missing Persons
4Enhancing case filesIncreases likelihood of identifying located missing persons....includes missing-person report data (e.g., age, race, gender, location) as well as length of time missing; dental, DNA, fingerprint information is collected when case is active and shared with NCIC and NamUsCreating detailed reports and proactive plans is labor intensive; may need to consult with forensic anthropologists, dentists, medical examiners, and family doctors
5Promoting the use of endangered-missing advisoriesIncreases likelihood of finding recently missing person by widening and intensifying search....there exist agreements between police and broadcasters for media alerts; alerts are localizedToo many alerts may reduce citizens' vigilance
6Promoting the use of search and information technologyIncreases likelihood of finding missing person and reduces search time; increases likelihood of returning located person home....electronic tracking devices are properly maintained; information databases are updatedMissing person can become separated from electronic tracking devices; widespread use of technology can be costly
7Enlisting volunteers to support missing-person searches, investigations and preventionIncreases likelihood of finding, recovering and preventing missing persons by enhancing resources. . . volunteer programs are established in advance and include background checks, training and proper management of volunteersRequires some additional expenditure to properly manage volunteer programs
8Providing families with information and supportAlleviates some of families' anxiety....a designated liaison trained in emotional and legal issues of missing persons is assigned to the family; other social services are availablePolice may not be able to meet all of families' needs and desires
9Facilitating at-risk persons' return homeIncreases likelihood located missing person will be returned home safely and assistance is available for immediate and safe transportationMost relevant to cases in which missing person is located far from home
10Ensuring proper cancellation of resolved casesPrevents wasting resources searching for missing persons who have already been located. . . family liaison or lead detective makes regular contact with family/reporter to update status; persons who report missing are strongly encouraged to report updates to policeRequires expenditure of some resources to confirm that missing person has actually been discovered/returned
11Focusing on repeat missing personsIncreases likelihood of preventing repeat instances of disappearing; conserves police resources....cases are referred to family court and social services and chronically missing persons and their families take advantage of servicesSocial services can be costly and not always effective
12Planning for disasters and catastrophesFacilitates large-scale search and recovery for large-scale missing incidents occurs before the incidentResources may be expended planning for unlikely or rare catastrophic events
13Promoting legislation that allows police access to informationIncreases likelihood of timely locating missing persons.....state-level legislation authorizes information sharing and efficient protocols are established and followedVoluntary information-sharing agreements might be executed even if mandatory legislation is not enacted
Responses With Limited Effectiveness
14Handling cases over the telephoneTelephone may be appropriate in limited cases or for initial contact only
15Rejecting cases for missing persons with outstanding warrantsMay add to missing-person caseload and may necessitate change in standard case management for missing persons
16Arresting juveniles for running away from homeAdjudication is unlikely for runaways, so arrest is inefficient and can deter reporting of runaway juveniles
17Forcing juvenile runaways to return homeCould return juvenile to an unsafe environment and discourage them from obtaining assistance