Missing person inquiries across Scotland have benefitted from a more consistent approach and better access to specialist resources in the two years since the single police service came into effect.
This area of policing could be further improved if Police Scotland made better use of the information it holds and shared it with partners to develop ways to prevent, support and protect those who go missing, states a report published today (Monday, June 22, 2015).
The Local Policing+ Inspection of the Approach to Missing Person Investigations in Aberdeen City Division forms part of the review of local policing in Aberdeen City Division which was published last month by HM Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland.
It looked at how effectively missing person reports were handled by the division and also examined national oversight of missing people investigations in Police Scotland.
In association with Children in Scotland, Care Inspectorate and the Scottish Institute of Policing Research (SIPR), the inspection looked at all aspects of a missing person investigation – from initial report and assessment of risk through to investigations, harm reduction strategies and working with other agencies.
HM Inspector of Constabulary Derek Penman said: “The importance of dealing with missing person investigations effectively from the outset cannot be over-emphasised and experience has shown that in some instances the report of a missing person is the first indicator that a serious crime has occurred.
“There is usually a reason why a person goes missing, and understanding the circumstances and causes creates an opportunity for the police and other authorities to identify measures that can stop or minimise further disappearances.
“More importantly, it can draw attention to safeguarding issues for the young and most vulnerable in our communities and help in the identification and investigation of crimes which are linked to, or are the cause of, someone going missing.”
Thousands of people are reported as missing to the police every year with over 99% resulting in the person being found safe and well. While many are traced within 24 hours, these inquiries can be resource intensive and Police Scotland puts the annual cost to policing at between £30 million to £80 million.
With the creation of a single service, Police Scotland inherited a complex and divergent approach to missing person investigations with eight different systems for recording disappearances and eight different sets of policies and practices.
The force took an early decision to establish a National Missing Person Unit to standardise and improve the effectiveness of missing person investigation and management throughout the country. This led to significantly improved missing person investigations, better leadership and governance and more equal access to specialist support.
Mr Penman added: “HMICS is encouraged by the leadership around missing persons inquiries under Police Scotland and whilst more has still to be done, we endorse the approaches being taken by the service to drive improvement across Scotland.
“The key areas for improvement by Police Scotland relate to using information held within the organisation to work with partners to develop ways to prevent, support and protect those who go missing.
“In Aberdeen City Division we found strong leadership with an appetite to improve this key service to communities. The Division has produced a comprehensive assessment profiling missing incidents which we found to be ground-breaking in terms of the depth and quality of data analysis and we recommend it be adopted across the Force.”
To ensure this was a comprehensive inspection, the views were sought of people who have been reported missing – the service users. HMICS was assisted in this by Children in Scotland, Care Inspectorate and SIPR and their findings are reflected in a separate report which is also published today:
HMICS has made 11 recommendations – four for Aberdeen City Division and seven for Police Scotland. Police Scotland will be asked to create an action plan to take them forward and to ensure that good practice is shared across Scotland.
The recommendations relate to the sharing of good practice, data used for compiling management information, single points of contact for families, return home interviews, entries on the vulnerable person database, staffing of the National Missing Person Unit, identifying emerging patterns, comprehensive local assessments and the development of consistent definitions which can be used by all agencies