We receive an average of 23 calls a day to report missing people to us. After making initial inquiries, around 18 people a day are recorded as missing – the others will have returned home, made contact or will have been found quickly by family or friends.
On each shift, every district’s local policing team dedicates officers to search for missing people – that’s every shift, 365 days of the year.
People go missing for all sorts of reasons. Some may be depressed or have other mental health issues. In the case of people with dementia or young children, they may simply have wandered off or got lost. Many are teenagers who go missing from home or from care homes – often they will have gone to stay with friends without telling parents or staff where they are going and what they are doing.
So, what happens when you report a person as missing?
Well, initially, you will be asked a lot of questions, all designed to help our officers find your loved one quickly.
“We will want to know what basic enquiries have already made with the family and friends of that person. Some missing people will go to to see a friend to try to clear their heads if they have worrying thoughts or just need some support. “We will ask if they have tried to contact the person themselves, where they think the person might be or possibly go, what places or addresses are important to them, what their habits are and what items they might have with them. “This helps us to make the correct risk assessment and to start making enquiries and searching for the person." Inspector Mark McQuade, of Southend Local Policing Team
Depending on the circumstances and the risk, our local policing team may ask community policing team colleagues to help with the search. They will also liaise with council CCTV teams and street wardens.
“The National Police Air Service helicopter may be called to assist, police search advisers will also undertake a behavioural analysis and can also call upon police search teams and volunteers from Essex Search and Rescue. “We take everything into consideration – a person’s age, their disabilities, their current mental health and any new change of circumstance which may have triggered them to go missing. For example, have they recently been bereaved, do they have money worries or have they made threats to harm themselves? “With younger people, we want to know if they have recently acquired new clothes, which could be a sign of supply of money, possibly acquired because they are being groomed or are involved with gangs. “With older people, we will want to know what clothes they are wearing as they may not be equipped for the prevailing weather conditions or, if they have taken a bag with them, it may show they have prepared to leave home and that they may just need some time on their own. “If the person missing has dementia or is otherwise vulnerable, we ask if the informant has completed the Herbert Protocol form, which can provide us with valuable information. “Is video doorbell footage available – this may show when the person left home, what they were wearing and which direction they were going. And, of course, we have the potential to track phones if the risk assessment is severe enought and, of course, if it is required.” Inspector Mark McQuade
Between 1 November 2020 and 31 October 2021, 6,524 people in Essex were recorded as missing and more than 99% were found.
In the Southend district, that figure was 600 during the same period. The sea attracts people missing from other areas. They go to the seafront to clear their heads, they go with friends or they go along on their own if they are feeling down.
Then, of course, last year more people holidayed in the UK due to the pandemic. Footfall increased in Southend with more families spending their time in the town, which meant more children, which meant more missing people. It’s particularly easy to for children to go missing in the town’s arcades because there are so many people around and it’s hard for their parents to spot them.
Normally, local policing team officers are the first police officers you are likely to see at an incident but searching for missing people means they will visit places the police wouldn’t usually be seen and engage with people who don’t often come into contact with officers.
In Southend, as well as making inquiries based on what is known about the missing person and their background, officers will also check the High Street, along the seafront and near the skate park.
If someone goes missing regularly, officers usually know where to look for them. For example, young people often go and stay with friends. Officers will contact them to make sure they are alright and to provide the correct safeguarding. That can be as simple as asking them to keep their phone on them, ensure it’s switched on and they are contacting friends and family if they are away from their care home and to give us addresses where they are likely to go.
Officers will also try to find out if they are being exploited by criminals and make them aware of the dangers.
We want to stop other people getting them into trouble and all the information we gather helps us to find them and make sure they are alright.
But what happens if we have no information about the person, other than a concern for their welfare?
There are still inquiries officers can make, says acting Sergeant Greg Dickinson, of Basildon Local Policing Team, who recently responded to a call from a pub in Basildon after one of its customers left a note, which caused staff concern.
“Officers checked CCTV which showed the man leaving the pub wearing distinctive clothing so we tracked him on CCTV until we ‘lost’ him in the market. “As we didn’t have any of his details, it caused us a challenge. Often, people will have gone missing previously and we’ll have their details, which we can use to find all sorts of useful information to assist our investigation. This will include addresses they frequent, people they talk to, associates, family members, vehicles they use." Acting Sergeant Greg Dickinson
“But this time we had nothing to go on except what the person looked like. So, we checked all the CCTV ‘black spots’ in the town centre, then the railway station, the bus station, the car parks and the underpasses. We also spoke to market and shop staff and members of the public. “Colleagues had already spoken to pub staff to see if the man had used his debit or credit card to pay for drinks. Unfortunately, he’d used cash. “But we persevered because of our concern. Using his picture, we finally got a name and located a phone number. Our inspector was able to speak to the man who said that he was OK. “However, we can’t just take someone’s word for it – they might not be telling the truth. We conducted more checks and allocated officers to go and see the man, check on his welfare and offer him the support that’s there for him.” Acting Sergeant Greg Dickinson
Do you have a vulnerable relative or friend who may go missing?
If you care for a vulnerable relative or friend, sign up to the Herbert Protocol if they regularly go missing or you are concerned that they might start doing so.
Having details of any medication they take, places they have been found before, mobile phone numbers and a recent photograph ready to hand can help our officers to locate them and it also saves you the strain of having to remember this information if they do go missing.