The charity Missing People is concerned about media reports that some police forces could reduce their response to “low risk” missing people. Missing People is concerned that the police not investigating low risk missing incidents could leave thousands of people at higher risk of coming to harm.
When someone goes missing, it is usually a sign of crisis. Whilst missing they are at high risk of coming to harm. Each year, almost 1,000 people die while missing and Missing People’s research shows that 75% of adults come to harm while missing – with 1 in 3 adults being a victim of a sexual assault or harassment; and almost 1 in 4 experienced physical violence or force.
We are concerned that people could be defined as low risk when they may in fact not be. Missing People’s research has found that missing children recorded as “low risk” were at clear risk of exploitation and other harms before they went missing and during their missing incident. However, these risks were often not known about by the police and other professionals. Our report into the ethnicity of missing people showed that the police are less likely to record Black and Asian missing people as at risk from mental health problems and exploitation than white people. It is therefore vital that the police proactively seek information from family, friends and other professionals before making a risk assessment, and continue to take this proactive approach to regularly review the level of risk a missing person faces, in line with national guidance.
Missing People understand that the police are under intense pressure. We support the approach to ensure missing people get the help they need, from the right professional, at the right time. The charity has worked with the National Police Chiefs Council, local authorities, NHS and other partners on the development of national frameworks for adults missing from health and care settings and children missing from care. These frameworks clarify the responsibilities for all professionals to work alongside the police when someone is missing to find them as quickly as possible and get them the right support
However, we also know that the police are the only agency with many of the powers to investigate, find and safeguard missing people. So, while we strongly advocate the need for multi-agency responses to missing people, we believe the police must continue to play their vital investigative role to ensure people are found safe. We want to see other agencies step forward to support the police response, rather than see the police step back. Local multi-agency approaches also need considerable time and planning to work effectively, and ensure no missing person falls through the gaps.
Missing People is also calling for a cross-government commitment on missing people – for the government to lead work to implement effective multi-agency responses to missing children and adults across the country, and to ensure an effective safeguarding approach to this vulnerable group.
The public strongly supports the police’s role in searching for missing people.
In 2021, an Opinium survey with 2,000 adults across the UK found that the vast majority of people agree that the police should search for vulnerable missing adults and children, as shown in the table below.
|Agree||Disagree||Neither agree or disagree|
|The police should look for an adult who has gone missing experiencing mental health crisis||84% |
|The police should look for a child who has gone missing and is believed to be being exploited||88%|
In research conducted by the Police Foundation which asked members of the public to rank police priorities, finding missing people who might be at risk ranked 13/48 priorities. When this finding is combined with Missing People’s own research, it is clear that finding missing people is a key priority for the public and should remain a key priority for the police.
 Further information available from Missing People