Police Failing Missing People
A recent published report raises concerns about police investigations into missing people. Approximately 313,000 people were reported missing in England and Wales in 2011-2012. The cost of investigating them is equivalent to £400–£600 million a year – or 14% of the total annual police budget. Worrying new research has revealed that 51% of police sergeants, who are responsible for overseeing the initial stages of missing persons investigations, have not read the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Guidelines on assessing risk. 49% had also not read the force’s own guidance documents.
A report published on 27th January 2014 by Richard Smith and Dr Karen Shalev Greene from the Centre for the Study of Missing Persons at the University of Portsmouth, surveyed 215 police sergeants in a large police force in England. All of them had been in a senior role for at least 5 years.
Dr Shalev Greene said: “Decision making is all too often subjective and inconsistent. One police sergeant might judge the risk of a set of circumstances as high and another might judge the same circumstances as medium. The challenge for policing is to remove such subjective measures, or at least place them within a more objective framework that ensures when the power of hindsight is being applied, the decision still stands up to scrutiny”.
The report argues that police officers should calculate risk by adhering to a formal framework such as the National Decision Model. The model is a tool that all UK police forces are expected to use when making decisions, including those related to missing persons, firearms incidents and public order command situations. The research highlights that it is not yet being used consistently.
Dr Shalev Greene said “The report raises the question that if officers aren’t taking responsibility for reading key documentation, what else are they missing? And if their training is said to be ineffective what other skills are they not being taught?”
The report goes on to recommend that duty inspectors should be given ‘ownership’ of all missing people cases for the first 48 hours, passing the case to other duty inspectors between shifts, to allow for a genuinely critical review of the risk assessment of shift handovers.
Sarah Young, Partner with Ridley & Hall Solicitors in Huddersfield comments: “I deal with a number of cases involving missing people. It is a uniquely traumatic event for a family when a loved one goes missing and it is vital for them to feel that the police are doing absolutely everything within their power to the highest possible standards. This report will, I hope, be read carefully and its recommendations implemented. “
“Research in this area is in its early stages but as this report shows, it is vital for identifying gaps in provision and to provide insight into what more can and should be done to safeguard and support missing people and their families.”
Sarah Young is a Partner with Ridley and Hall solicitors. She specialises in contentious probate law. Sarah has a record of bringing the most complex cases to a successful conclusion.
For further information please contact Sarah Young of Ridley and Hall, Queens House, 35 Market Street, Huddersfield HD1 2HL on 01484 538421 or mobile 07860 165850.