What do the police do when a missing person is found

When someone is found, the police have several steps to complete in order to close down their investigation.

The person is reported as found

When a missing person is reported as found the police must ensure that they are safe, that they haven’t been a victim of crime, and that they will not come to further harm. This will, in most cases, mean that the missing person must be seen face-to-face by an officer to establish they are safe and well.

These visits where an officer speaks to the returned person are known as a “Prevention Interview” or “Safe and Well Check”. The police will ask questions to try to understand what led the person to go missing, what happened while they were away, and any other relevant information. They will need to use this information to fill in various reports to close the case. When completing these checks, officers will be expected to consider safeguarding measures that might need to be put in place immediately, or considered by other agencies e.g. health, education, or social care. If other agencies need to get involved, the police may share information about the missing person and how they were when they returned.

Understanding the person’s reasons

Understanding the reasons why someone went missing is really important as it can be a chance to identify risks or harm that the person might be facing; to help people get access to support if they need longer-term help; and to hopefully prevent them from going missing again in the future. In some cases, these conversations can also help to gather information that might help in the search if they do go missing again in future.

In some cases, when the risk to the missing person has been assessed as low or medium the police might feel it is acceptable to do all of this by phone with the missing person or by speaking to whoever reported them missing in the first instance. This is not always considered good practice as we think it’s important that the police check on people when they return. However, in some cases it might be more appropriate.

When a missing child returns

If the missing person is a child, police officers have a duty to inform children social care that they are missing and so will also tell them when they have returned – this is either by contact direct from the investigating officer or by a report from the force safeguarding teams/child protection specialist units.

Children will receive a “Prevention Interview” or “Safe and Well Check” as this should take place for every missing person. However, children should also always be offered a “Return Interview”: this is a more detailed, supportive intervention which should be organised by your local authority and delivered by a trained, independent professional. These interviews give the child a chance to talk through anything that led to them going missing, anything they experienced while they were away, and any support they might need going forward. They are a vital opportunity to identify risk and harm in a more comprehensive, supportive way than the initial police checks. These interviews should be carried out within 72 hours of the child’s return although not all areas are able to stick to this timeframe.

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