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.
Reporting a missing person
Initially the person making the report 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.
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.
Taking everything into consideration
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 enough and, of course, if it is required.
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.
If there is no immediate danger and you might know where the missing person is, because they regularly go missing, it's best to check first before contacting police. For example, young people often go and stay with friends.
If you're not able to do this, let us know. Officers can make contact with 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.
Do you have a vulnerable relative or friend who could 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.
In addition Guardian Angel wristbands, badges, hang tags and keyrings from the charity Dementia Buddy allows people with dementia to maintain their independence whilst giving their loved ones the confidence that they will be quickly identified if they happen to become lost or confused.
The devices encoded with the individual's first name and an emergency contact number. This can be clicked and called when scanned with a mobile phone.