Missing Persons - Is that 24 hour rule true?

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Missing Persons - Is that 24 hour rule true?

Brian Humenuk | COPJOT Police Notebooks and Pens

By Brian Humenuk, COPJOT Police Notebooks and Pens -  August 14, 2022

One of the more important entries that is written into a COPJOT Police Notebook is that of a person that has gone missing. Besides possibly a homicide investigation a missing persons case is going to be an in-depth investigation that your Police Pocket Notepad will be filled up with useful information and that information will develop leads to the case.

In today’s blog I talk about a misconception that if an adult goes missing the reporting party or family/friends need to wait 24-48 hours before filing a missing persons report. Many people believe that this rule of thumb is a law in the state where they are but it is not.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice on about 700,000 people are reported missing in the U.S. alone every year, but the great majority of those cases are favorably resolved. About 80,000 – 90,000 individuals are unaccounted for at any given time.

There is a myth out there that is mostly brought to us by television and movies. Most such myths are harmless, but this one can literally mean the difference between life and death. The myth that I am talking about is that families and friends need to wait 24 hours before officially reporting their loved ones missing. For the police officers that don’t follow or even understand their department policies and procedures this TV myth can be their rule of thumb when in fact their agency policies and procedures dictate otherwise.

My family is very aware that my favorite podcast is that of Crime Junkie with Ashley Flowers and Brit Prawat. When investigating and telling the story of a missing persons case the two co-hosts always do a great job dropping the mouths of their listeners when talking about how the families of missing persons needed to wait 24 hours before officially reporting them missing. Ashley and Brit can be guaranteed to feed off each other drawing their listeners in as the police agency investigating the case becomes the black eye of the investigation.

But hold on. Wait a minute. The officer that first comes into contact with the family or reporting party can easily be a beat officer, sector officer, desk officer or even a new police academy graduate working with his or her field training officer. We as listeners can’t assume that a missing persons report is going to be first filed with the most knowledgeable senior officer or detective with 30 years of service.

Whether you have a shiny new COPJOT Police Notebook, Police Notepad, All Weather Police Notepad or a plain cardboard and paper notepad from one of our competitors if you are not familiar with your agencies policies and procedures on missing persons then you may fall into the rabbit hole, as Ashley Flowers would say, and tell a person to call us back in 24 hours.

Police departments should be stressing the importance of reporting an unexplained absence as quickly as possible, especially if violence or suspicious circumstances are involved. According to Amy Dobbs, an investigator with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, in a 2014 interview with USA TODAY, “The first 12 to 24 hours are the most critical in an active missing persons investigation. The longer it takes for a case to be reported and become an active investigation, the less likely a positive outcome will occur.”

The faster that the missing persons report can be filed and their information is entered into the National Crime and Information Center or (NCIC) the faster other agencies and officers are notified to be on the lookout for that person. If an officer comes into contact with the missing person and runs their information, he or she will get a hit and be immediately notified that they have been reported as missing. If the person is not entered into NCIC then the only way other agencies and officers are informed is through word of mouth and no hit will take place if they come into contact with a police officer.

When it comes to missing juveniles most, if not all, agencies should have policies and procedures that say these types of individuals should be reported and entered immediately.

I can go on and on about how necessary it is to enter a missing person and complete a full report with the details but the moral of the story here is that officers should be well aware of their policies and procedures so that mistakes are not made. With police reform spreading across the country many law enforcement agencies that did not have updated policies and procedures regarding the missing will now have them and there will be annual training on those policies.

So when you get a call about a person that has gone missing within 24 hours and you are aware of what your agencies policies and procedures say, slide that COPJOT Police Pocket Notebook out and start taking down all that vital information.

More Information

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