Lincolnshire

How police helped over 3,000 missing people in one year

When people go missing, it is distressing for friends, family and loved ones, but the number reported missing in the county has reduced since Lincolnshire Police’s Missing Persons Unit was established in April 2016.

In a recent strategic assessment document covering the period of August 1 2017 to July 31 2018 Lincolnshire Police recorded 3,394 missing people, of which 2,861 were ‘actually missing’ and 655 were ‘absent’ (no apparent risk) and during this period 10 people were found deceased.

The number of missing children since 2016 has reduced, with 2,598 reported that year and a lower figure of 2,377 in 2017. So far in 2018 there have been 1,690 missing children reported to Lincolnshire Police with the projected end of year figure lower of 2,147 than last year’s total.

There are now just two active missing person enquires at Lincolnshire Police as of this week after four more people, including Lincoln man Michael Riley, were found over the weekend.

The longest active case is wanted man Glenn Brookes who has been missing for over 45 days.

Missing Persons poster.

Sergeant Gareth Wigham of Lincolnshire Police’s Missing Person Unit told Lincolnshire Reporter that on average there are 55 missing people reported to Lincolnshire Police each week, but many are found within 24 hours.

He said: “It is difficult not to get emotionally involved in the cases and the ones where people end up deceased are difficult, but we have to get above that level and focus on dealing with the efforts to find people. It is no different to anything else police do.

“Our main risk areas are mental health, people with suicidal thoughts, child exploitation and County Lines is a big one at the moment. We also have a safeguarding side to the unit and when a person is found they are given support and work with support agencies and services.

“Missing People offers a family support service that we can refer to and we offer a point of contact in our unit for family to talk to.

“My team are excellent and have quick ways of finding information from support agencies and there has been a reduction in missing people since we started.”

What happens when someone goes missing?

When a missing person is reported, the caller will be asked a list of 10 vulnerability questions by the police’s fore control room, which is going up to 13 in early 2019 to fit in with national policy.

An inspector will then make a decision of whether it is low, medium or high risk, or absent (no apparent risk). That initial assessment decides how the force deploys resources to an incident.

After the risk level and resources are decided, police will speak to the person who reported it again and carry out a 23 question assessment to get a more in-depth view of the missing person and the situation will be re-assessed.

This assessment should be reviewed every nine hours or sooner if more information comes to light.

An enquiry is never closed until someone is found, but when cases get to the point where all options have been exhausted they become in-active, although if people come forward with new information they can be activated again.

The Missing Persons Unit currently has 36 in-active enquiries dating back decades ago and they remain on national computers and get reviewed annually.

The Herbert Protocol

The Herbert Protocol was launched in the county during National Dementia Awareness week in May 2017 and Anne-Marie Card from the Missing Persons Unit at Lincolnshire Police rolled out the scheme.

It is a national scheme which encourages carers and families to record vital information on a form which could be used in the event of a vulnerable person going missing.

Lincolnshire Police drones

Screenshot from drone footage of a vulnerable missing man in his mid-70s being found. Photo: Lincs Police Drones

Drones continue to prove a valuable tool for Lincolnshire Police and earlier this month they assisted in finding a vulnerable missing man.

Gareth said: “Drones are very useful and have helped locate missing people. They are also less expensive than a helicopter with shorter travel time so can spend more time searching. It also offers more flexibility and is great bit of kit.”

Staff Sergeant and Chief Pilot at Lincolnshire Police Drones Kev Taylor added: “Incidents like this (missing people) have proven yet again that the investment in drones delivers additional capability to our rural landscape of. Lincolnshire, assisting in the search for vulnerable and missing people.

“The zoom and thermal imagery from the drone supports officers on the ground by searching the vast open and hard to reach areas, far quicker than previously possible.”

Social media

Gareth said: “Social media benefits us sometimes as we can use it to communicate directly with people and recently it was used to get a missing person to go see an officer to make sure they were well and it helps us circulate things quicker.

“It also comes with its own risks. When people circulate things round some people think we monitor every single post from different places, but commenting on posts (not including the police’s official accounts) may not be sharing information with police so don’t rely on that people need to tell us directly.

“Communication is a big thing and a number of enquiries we get could be resolved if people communicated, for example children with parents.”

The current national guidance for finding and locating people is a joint enterprise between police, agencies and people and Gareth’s plea to the public would be to try all initial lines of enquiries of their own first whether it’s before or after calling the police dependant on the risk.