Police forces are to move towards a new approach to risk assessing and responding to missing person cases that aims to better protect children and vulnerable adults
From April 2013, a new definition will give police forces a tool to identify and direct resources towards those cases where missing persons are most at risk of harm.
ACPO lead for missing people Chief Constable Pat Geenty said:
“Every year there are around 327,000 reports of missing people, nearly 900 a day. Behind these numbers are friends and families undergoing enormous distress and the police service is committed to doing as much as we can to bring their loved ones home safely.
“The police are often the first agency to take a missing person report and our aim is to ensure we get the best possible response to those most at risk of harm. This means identifying these cases early so that policing resources go where they are most needed.
“Safeguarding children and vulnerable adults requires a multi-agency response and both police and partners agree on the need to move beyond a ‘one-size fits all’ response. We have worked closely with partners and the College of Policing to ensure we use their knowledge and expertise in this area. That input has helped to shape the pilot and our implementation plans and we believe the new approach will better protect children and vulnerable adults.”
Chief Constable Alex Marshall, Chief Executive of the College of Policing, said:
"The missing persons pilots show how the College is adding real value by working with partners to evaluate local policing innovations and then using the results to shape national practice. The work of the Reducing Bureaucracy Programme Board is a good example of the police service taking an evidence based approach. By identifying the risks better, the police can focus more on the people most at risk of harm, and work with partners to safeguard the vulnerable."
As part of the joint Home Office and ACPO Reducing Bureaucracy programme, a change to the current working definition of a missing person was piloted in three police force areas in Autumn 2011.
Under the current definition anyone whose whereabouts is unknown is classed as missing until located. Reviews of the police approach to missing people expressed concern about initial police responses to calls about young people who were regularly reported as missing by children’s homes, in spite of the children’s home knowing where the person was, not having taken steps to return them and not anticipating the person would come to any harm.
Examples may include children’s homes calling the police when a person was half an hour late for a 7pm curfew one evening, when a person regularly went to a friend’s house (though unauthorised to do so) or was seen walking out of the children’s home but not challenged.
Such calls would ordinarily trigger a full police response. Officers are required to attend all missing person reports, conduct a risk assessment, complete detailed records and locate and return the person.
The new definition distinguishes between people who are:
Absent- not at a place where they are expected or required to be.
Missing- not at the place they are expected to be but the circumstances are out of character or the context suggests they may be subject of a crime or at risk of harm to themselves or others.
Evaluation of pilots in Greater Manchester, West Midlands and Staffordshire found promising evidence that the more proportionate approach freed up police capacity, enabling officers to focus on more serious incidents and proactive safeguarding. Call handlers used the new definition to categorise initial reports. Officers were deployed to missing incidents and conducted a full investigation. Absences were recorded and monitored so that any patterns or causes for concern could be identified.
Officers made interventions with care providers where there were repeat occurrences to ensure that the reasons behind the absences were investigated. If further information is received that changes the circumstances of the absent report, the report will be escalated to a missing persons incident.
Sussex Police have been using the new definition over the last three years.
Chief constables have agreed the new definition for roll out to forces from April 2013. Guidance will be issued to forces explaining the changes and providing advice on ensuring that they have processes in place for engaging with partner agencies, monitoring absences and training staff. A national staff training programme is underway for those who will be delivering the new approach.