Operation Harrier: Using technology to support those at risk
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A project by Essex Police has so far prevented around 704 missing person incidents.
In a continued effort to protect vulnerable people from going missing, Essex Police launched ‘Operation Harrier’ in 2019. The operation focuses around keeping people safe and helping people who live with Alzheimer’s and Dementia by using GPS technology to remain within their homes.
The collaborative initiative supplies those living with Alzheimer's and Dementia, who’ve previously been reported as missing, with a GPS device. The device provides information on an individual’s whereabouts, without being too intrusive. It creates a ‘safe zone’ and notifies their family or carers if they’ve travelled outside the zone.
It allows synchronised working between the police, families, carers, and adult social care whilst also reducing the impact of missing persons investigations on the police.
Inspector Terry Jacobs, the Op Harrier lead for the force said “Missing person reports where there is a direct risk to life remain a priority for Essex Police.
“Whilst we will always prioritise the safeguarding of a vulnerable person, missing persons investigations and mental health related incidents often require the involvement of a lot of officers and other resources which can impact our ability to respond to crimes such as burglaries.
“In 2023, we received 8,412 missing person reports with more than 1,400 deemed to be high risk, meaning they’re considered to be at immediate risk.
“The risk level is defined on a case-by-case basis but if an individual is living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, they are often classified as high risk. Op Harrier has already made a difference, preventing more than 700 missing persons episodes so far. If each of these episodes had resulted in a high risk missing person it would have saved up to £1.7 million in police efficiency, and allowing officers to continue tackling crime in Essex.
‘We understand that it can be extremely challenging for the family of someone living with a medical condition and you may wonder what you can do to keep them safe. There are a wide range of technology enabled care solutions on the market such as pendants, Bluetooth tags or GPS monitoring clips which use the mobile phone network which you can purchase if you’re concerned about someone you love putting themselves at risk.”
Katie Severn, Missing Persons Lead for Essex Police, said: “This year, we’ve located thousands of missing people and there’s a huge collaborative effort between teams in Essex Police including our PCs, Missing Person Liaison Officers, drone teams, dog units and specialist search teams to locate them. We’re often supported by National Police Air Service helicopter as well as Essex Search and Rescue, who provide vital assistance to find vulnerable people.
“When someone’s been found, our team of 11 Missing Persons Liaison Officers work to ensure the individual is getting the support they need and hopefully prevent them going missing again.
“A lot of the missing persons investigations centre around someone suffering with their mental health. We are continuing to work with our partners at mental health support services and charities, who do amazing work in helping vulnerable people.
“An example of this comes from the Missing People charity is their text safe messages. When we launch an investigation, they are able to send a message to that person and pass their details onto Samaritans who can provide tailored support.”
“In specific circumstances, we will work with our Media and Communications team to issue a missing persons appeal on social media. This is often done as a last resort but we receive a fantastic response from the public, and we thank them for providing us with sighting reports and information which are valuable to the investigation.”
This initiative is part of ongoing work to ensure people requiring mental health or medical help receive the support they need from those with the relevant expertise.
In 2022, we were called to around 18,000 incidents where mental health was a factor, with nearly 10,000 not involving any criminal activity.
Detective Inspector James Gray said: “Our officers are highly trained but they’re not medical experts and aren’t the best people to help those in a mental health crisis.
“We want to ensure that those in need get the right care from the right people, and our officers are able to focus on protecting the public, detecting crime, and catching criminals.
“We’ve been working really hard with partners to do this. In November alone, this has resulted in 32 fewer deployments each day, meaning we can attend more reports of crime across the county."
Detective Inspector James Gray added: “We’ll always be there for those who need our help. If your safety is put at risk, or you’re a victim of crime, we’ll be there.
“If officers aren’t having to stay at hospital with people needing medical or mental health support waiting for them to be admitted, they can spend more time responding to incidents and investigating crime.
“That is what they are trained to do and it’s what the public expect of us.”