Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Summary of Responses

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 How It Works Works Best If… Considerations
General Considerations for an Effective Response Strategy
1 Collaborating with other agencies Facilitates 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 agencies Some 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
2 Training police and other emergency response personnel Increases understanding of types of missing persons and improves searches, investigations, recoveries, and prevention ....training is relevant to all personnel and covers diversity of missing-population issues Training will need to be updated and repeated
3 Educating the public Promotes prompt reporting, improves information to aid search, and improves prevention ....target audience includes high-risk groups such as schoolchildren, prostitutes and homeless; message extends beyond stranger abductions Too 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
4 Enhancing case files Increases 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 NamUs
Creating detailed reports and proactive plans is labor intensive; may need to consult with forensic anthropologists, dentists, medical examiners, and family doctors
5 Promoting the use of endangered-missing advisories Increases likelihood of finding recently missing person by widening and intensifying search ....there exist agreements between police and broadcasters for media alerts; alerts are localized Too many alerts may reduce citizens’ vigilance
6 Promoting the use of search and information technology Increases 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 updated Missing person can become separated from electronic tracking devices; widespread use of technology can be costly
7 Enlisting volunteers to support missing-person searches, investigations and prevention Increases 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 volunteers Requires some additional expenditure to properly manage volunteer programs
8 Providing families with information and support Alleviates 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 available Police may not be able to meet all of families’ needs and desires
9 Facilitating at-risk persons’ return home Increases likelihood located missing person will be returned home safely and quickly ....financial assistance is available for immediate and safe transportation Most relevant to cases in which missing person is located far from home
10 Ensuring proper cancellation of resolved cases Prevents 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 police Requires expenditure of some resources to confirm that missing person has actually been discovered/returned
11 Focusing on repeat missing persons Increases 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 services Social services can be costly and not always effective
12 Planning for disasters and catastrophes Facilitates large-scale search and recovery operations ....training for large-scale missing incidents occurs before the incident Resources may be expended planning for unlikely or rare catastrophic events
13 Promoting legislation that allows police access to information Increases likelihood of timely locating missing persons .....state-level legislation authorizes information sharing and efficient protocols are established and followed Voluntary information-sharing agreements might be executed even if mandatory legislation is not enacted
Responses With Limited Effectiveness
14 Handling cases over the telephone     Telephone may be appropriate in limited cases or for initial contact only
15 Rejecting cases for missing persons with outstanding warrants     May add to missing-person caseload and may necessitate change in standard case management for missing persons
16 Arresting juveniles for running away from home     Adjudication is unlikely for runaways, so arrest is inefficient and can deter reporting of runaway juveniles
17 Forcing juvenile runaways to return home     Could return juvenile to an unsafe environment and discourage them from obtaining assistance