When a family member reports a missing person, the police will do their best to trace them. All cases sit on a risk continuum and must be assessed accordingly.
However, this is not an easy task. Missing persons investigations often involve many avenues of enquiry and different hypothesises about where the missing person is. Keeping track of these avenues is vital to the success of an investigation.
Identifying the missing person
Identifying the missing person is a key step in a missing persons investigation. It is important to have a current photograph of the missing person, especially one that shows their face and upper body. This should be kept in a safe place and given to anyone who might help. Also, keep a log of conversations and any information received about the missing person. Flow charts can be helpful for mapping out avenues of inquiry.
It is a good idea to notify the missing persons agency in your jurisdiction, as well as any other relevant authorities. A missing persons report should be filed as soon as possible, because missing people can disappear from anywhere, and it is difficult to determine when they will return.
For example, you might want to check hospitals and clinics to see if the person has been hospitalized. You can also contact local jails and prisons to find out if the person is in custody. Finally, you should canvass the area where your loved one was last seen. Get help from friends and volunteers to drive around, post signs, and ask questions.
Missing persons investigations can be complex, so it is important to plan ahead and make a clear and detailed case. The most important thing is to remember that the missing person could be dead or alive. Any methodological approach to identifying the fate and specific whereabouts of a missing person must be based on this principle.
Identifying the crime scene
A missing persons investigation is a challenging task for officers and police departments. In addition to the complexities of working with family members and other law enforcement agencies, these cases often require special training and resources. Officers must be familiar with Best Practice Protocols for Missing Persons Cases, evaluating and categorizing missing persons, and identifying the crime scene. They also need to understand forensic techniques and procedures.
The nature of a missing person case means that there is often no physical trace of the individual, so police investigations need to be thorough and well-resourced. It’s important to keep in mind that the police will need to work with a range of partners to carry out a successful search, including fire and rescue services and volunteer search teams. This may involve a complex and lengthy communications strategy.
Forensic evidence is often the key to locating a missing person. However, there are other sources of intelligence that can be used to identify the location and circumstances of a disappearance. For example, social media profiles or financial transactions can be a clue to where the missing person has gone. The sudden cessation of a habitual activity is another important consideration.
Forensic identification samples should be obtained from the missing person’s belongings, and a DNA profile should be requested where possible. Relatives and friends are valuable sources of information, but care should be taken to verify their statements. Police forces should consider offering rewards where appropriate, but they must ensure that the terms are reasonable and fair. In addition, they should be clear that any reward is not an indication of guilt or innocence.
Identifying the suspects
When investigating a missing person, it is essential to keep records and notes about all lines of enquiry. This may involve using a missing persons database/application or the force command and control incident log depending on the seriousness of the case and the force policy. Keeping detailed records of enquiries will help in the identification process if a person is found and provides a useful tool to identify potential suspects.
A risk assessment should also be made at the beginning of the investigation. This should be based on the missing person’s age, gender and circumstances surrounding their disappearance. This should be accompanied by a list of possible risks and their potential impacts. Keeping this risk assessment in mind will make it easier to determine which enquiries should be prioritised.
The elaboration of a list of unidentified persons and sites is another important step in the identification process. This list should be consolidated and centralized, and it should be dynamically reassessed during the analysis process. This will enable police to better formulate lines of inquiry, expand comparison criteria and reconstruct networks (e.g. interactions with others who disappeared), as well as map human remains sites (in the event of death).
In addition, enquiries should be made with organisations that collect information on people’s online activity, such as social media and search engines. These can provide valuable clues about a missing person’s intentions, but police must be careful to ensure that the enquiries are proportionate and not misused by stalkers and abusers.
Identifying the victim
The identification of missing persons is a key step in the search process. It requires the comparison of independent lines of evidence that may carry different weights in terms of their individualizing power. It is essential to collect and evaluate all information, including the context of the case and its historical investigation. It is also important to consider the impact of the identification on families, communities and societies.
During the identification process, police must gather as much information as possible, including physical and medical profiles, lifestyle habits and family information, and secondary data such as diaries or online activity. In addition, it is vital to visit the last known address and go through the person’s personal belongings to get a sense of their personality and interests.
Missing persons investigations are often complex, especially in large-scale disaster scenarios or conflict/post-conflict situations. It is therefore important to establish a mechanism to manage these cases and ensure that there are regular reviews and supervision. The mechanism should be consistent with policy and ensure that the victim’s needs are met.
A key consideration is how to support the family and carers of the missing person. This can be a difficult task, as it is unlikely that a single officer will be in charge of the investigation over a prolonged period of time. However, it is still important to ensure that the family has a point of contact during the process.