When can I file a Missing Person Report? (The 24 hr myth)

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When can I file a Missing Person Report? (The 24 hr myth)

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Brian Humenuk | COPJOT Police Notebooks and Pens

By Brian Humenuk, MACOPJOT

January 4, 2024

3 minute read

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

When it comes to a missing person one of the #1 questions law enforcement gets is when can I file a missing persons report? Keep reading, the answers are below and they may surprise you.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice on justice.gov 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.

How to file a missing person report

In most instances, you should file a missing person report in person either at your local police station or request that a law enforcement officer respond to your location. This is important so that you can ensure that the police have accurate answers to their questions and you are able to ask follow-up questions.

If your local law enforcement agency allows you to file a missing person report over the Internet you will not have control over the timeliness of their receipt of your e-file report.

How to file a missing person report online

Filing a missing person report online is not something you should do unless your local police agency requires you to do so. Reporting a person missing should be conducted at the police department where an officer can meet with you face to face or you can request that a police officer respond to your location. 

Filing a missing persons report is time-sensitive and e-filing with your local law enforcement agency should be a last resort. Getting face time with a police officer taking your report is important for you and it should be for him or her. 

Missing person report for adults

 If a loved one or friend goes missing and nobody can locate them it is always best to call your local police department or the local police agency that the missing person resides in. 

The agency that you will make the report with has policies and procedures to operate within and if there is any time frame in which you have to wait they should advise you of that. 

For missing and endangered persons action should be taken right away. This goes for adults and juveniles. 

You should get the reporting officer's name, phone number, and email so that you can follow up with him or her. 

Missing person report for juveniles

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.

Do I have to wait 24 hours to file a missing person report?

Having to wait 24 hours to officially report your loved one or friend missing will be dictated by the police agency's policies and procedures regarding the reporting of missing persons. This is important because you can ask what the police department policy says about reporting a missing person. This should provide you with an answer if there is a waiting period or not. 

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.

There is a misconception that if an adult goes missing the reporting party or family/friends must wait 24-48 hours before filing a missing persons report. Many people believe this rule of thumb is a law in the state where they are but it is not.

Police agencies operate, or should operate, according to their department policies and procedures. Most police agencies will have a policy and procedure on missing persons and or incident reporting. 

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 circumstances surrounding a person gone missing are not always the same and certainly is not a boilerplate case. Every case in which a missing person is reported should be looked at as its own set of circumstances. It should then be evaluated and followed up on. 

Police departments should be stressing the importance of reporting an unexplained absence as quickly as possible, especially if violence or suspicious circumstances are involved.

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.

Who can file a missing persons report?

When it comes to filing a missing persons report anybody with information on the who, what, when, where, and how can call the police. This is important because this person will be the one who makes law enforcement aware of the situation. 

The secondary answer to this question is the person closest and with the most information regarding the missing should be speaking with the police as well. 

The police will, or they should, have a lot of questions and will want an updated photograph of your missing loved one or friend. You will want the person who is the most knowledgeable to speak with the police.

Missing person cases on TV shows and Podcasts

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 agency's 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.

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.

About the Author

Brian Humenuk isn't just an entrepreneur in eCommerce, he is also an informed leader whose experience provides followers and visitors with a look into current and past police issues making headlines in the United States.

Brian has earned three degrees in Criminal Justice with the last, a Masters of Science in Criminal Justice Administration.

Brian extends his training, education, and experience to the officers just now getting into the field so that they may become more informed police officers and stay clear of police misconduct and corruption. 

You can find out more about Brian and the COPJOT story on the ABOUT US page.

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COPJOT is supported by its audience. If you make a purchase through links on this site I may earn a small affiliate commission. Enough to buy myself a small coffee and I want to thank you in advance. 

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