Using the media’s resources, together with social media, many people who go missing are soon found safe and well but what is the cost of these searches and how much of an impact is it having on the ever-decreasing budget to our already stretched police force? Jackie Derbyshire investigates...
Whether it be a teenage runaway, a vulnerable adult or a family member who hasn’t been seen for some time, these are all cases the Missing Persons’ Department at Nottinghamshire Police investigate.
In this county alone, 400 reports of missing people are received each month. This equates to between 12 and 15 a day and of this, around 2/3 are people under 18-years-old.
The pressure this is creating is reflected at forces throughout the country and was recently highlighted by one of the UK’s most senior chief constables, Sir Peter Fahy, of Greater Manchester Police.
He warned that looking for teenage runaways in particular was ‘unsustainable’ and the time and cost involved was a ‘burden’ for police against a background of shrinking budgets, recruitment freezes and redundancies and he claimed that other police work was being ‘compromised by thousands of calls better dealt with by social workers’.
Many cases involve young people who repeatedly run away from care homes. Some go missing, and are then found and returned by police officers countless times.
In a 2012 study, researchers at the Centre for the Study of Missing Persons (CSMP) at Portsmouth University said each missing person call costs an average of between £1,325 and £2,415. These figures are based on the annual cost of missing person investigations to 19,188 police constables working full time or 14 per cent of the total number of full time police officers in the UK.
The sums are not difficult to work out but are definitely hard to swallow when it equates to up to £1million A MONTH for Nottinghamshire alone.
And based on a comparison of Home Office figures, it means that a case investigating a missing person costs roughly three times more than a violent crime or robbery and four times more than a burglary.
The Nottinghamshire Police missing persons team was set up in November 2014 after the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) advised all forces that national best practice was to have missing persons’ co-ordinators in post.
The investigation work is the same today as it was prior to this date in that response officers are still deployed to locate missing persons. However the co-ordinators provide ‘additional pro-active problem solving and partnership work’ which aims to help address the particular reasons why individuals go missing.
There are five co-ordinators: three on the city division and two on the county. They are all civilian staff supervised by sergeants.
Team manager, Emma Laughton, said it is a complex issue that requires a multi-agency approach and explains the process.
“When we receive a report of a missing person we carry out a risk assessment to identify whether an immediate police response is required – is it out of character for that person to go missing? Are they vulnerable? What are the circumstances around the missing? Using this information we can start a chain of activity.
“Our aim is always to trace and locate them safely. When it is a vulnerable person or someone under the age of 18 there is always an increased concern for their safety.”
A team of dedicated missing persons’ co-ordinators assist with enquiries and represent the force in multi-agency problem-solving approaches to young and vulnerable frequently missing people.
“We do a lot of work with local authorities, the NHS and charities, and have agreed ways of working across organisations to promote an effective response to people who may be vulnerable and need help,” explains Mrs Laughton. “A lot of preventative work is done by partners to stop the missing episode from happening in the first place, especially if the person goes missing frequently.
“Collectively, we work to identify and address the risks or issues that are happening in someone’s life, for example: is the young person being bullied? Are they at risk of domestic abuse? Has there been a family breakdown, are there issues with drug and alcohol abuse? Are they in care? Are they at risk of offending? Are they at risk of becoming victims?
“We try and get to the bottom of the underlying problems. Sometimes simply finding a missing person isn’t enough – we might be putting them right back into the situation they were trying to get away from.
“It is vital that we work with colleagues to ensure that there is a joined up response. Understanding these issues and putting measures in place to prevent them happening is key. The police cannot do this on their own.”
New rules unveiled by Children and Families Minister, Edward Timpson, introduced guidelines this year. This involves children who return, having run away, receiving an independent return interview organised by their local authority to help prevent it happening again.
This has been adopted by Nottinghamshire County Council and is built into the Nottinghamshire Safeguarding Children Board (NSCB) policy document for children missing from home or care.
The council’s estimated cost is £81 per missing incident with reports of over 525 incidents during 2014-15 this equates to £42,525 on top of the police costs.
The authority carried out 159 interviews of children who had gone missing whilst in care, of these eight youngsters had gone missing on more than 10 occasions.
Laurence Jones, interim service director of youth, families and culture said:“In Nottinghamshire the local authority and the police work together closely on the issue of children who go missing from care. We work hard to understand why children go missing and social workers alongside foster carers and workers in children’s homes then try to put in place measures to stop them going missing again.
“Children in care are amongst the most vulnerable in society and when they are missing there will be genuine concerns for their safety and the risk of them being exploited by others. The police do an excellent job of using their particular skills and powers to bring missing children back safely.”
But with more pressure piling on the police, Nottinghamshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Paddy Tipping, said a debate is currently taking place over the disproportionate expense between the authorities.
“There is good liaison around children missing from care and the substantial cost that falls upon the police and there are ongoing discussions about whether local authorities, who are primarily responsible for these children, should contribute to the cost to the police of tracing and locating them.”
To report someone missing call Nottinghamshire Police on 101 or in an emergency dial 999. The UK Missing Persons Bureau can be contacted by email: [email protected]
The number of missing persons reported nationally according to the UK Missing Persons Bureau in 2012/13 was 306,000
The number of missing persons reported to Nottinghamshire Police each month is about 400.
The average cost to Nottinghamshire Police for each missing person is between £1,325 and £2,415
The estimated cost per missing person for Nottinghamshire County Council is £81
A missing person case costs three times more than a violent crime or robbery and four times more than a burglary to investigate