Saturday, 11 July 2009

A Lonely Place

Part of my job is to make decisions. I'm not perfect and am happy to admit I often get it wrong. Hopefully years of experience learning from my mistakes and seeing where others have gone astray limit the occasions when I might put myself in the firing line. There will be a time, a job some incident when it goes horribly wrong and I know that I will have to justify every decision I made and have to account for why I didn't do X Y or Z. It will probably be a little every day incident that gets me. The missing person enquiry is an area of police work that I pay particular attention to.

We are literally inundated with missing person requests, where the initial call is risk assessed by the control room so the call is graded accordingly. If it involves a young person it must be graded as an immediate response. Either the sector Sergeant or Duty officer is contacted and informed of the call. This is where a decision is made to either keep as an I or downgrade to an S response (within the hour). You may be informed that the young person has been reported missing three times in the last week having not returned to their care home so make a common sense decision to downgrade. You are immediately in the frame if anything happens to that young person who has been allowed to roam from being in care, but the care worker has covered their arse by passing the buck to police.

Unfortunately if the S call limit is missed as units are diverted to other "more urgent" calls there can be severe slippage. The old controller would have ensured that it would have got dealt with in a suitable time frame, but I've noticed a tendency under our new systems to err on the side of hoping the person returns before we get to report them missing. This is fraught with danger and I don't like it if my arse is the one hanging out.

It's much the same with mental health patients. In the day's of sector policing I had a mental health ward on my patch and would often attend up to 3 times a day to report patients under section missing, who had either walked out of a secure ward or not returned from unescorted leave. It is a huge drain on police resources and not helped by a time consuming reporting system to get the person circulated on the police national computer.

The art is to sense early on where it could go horribly wrong. If somebody has been terribly depressed and suicidal then time is of the essence and some enquiries need to be made as a matter of urgency. I took over as controller (system worked - why did we change it?) one early turn and saw on handover a message about a suicidal male being reported missing by a relative out of town. Nothing had been done and she'd been advised to report him missing at her local station so they could transfer it over to us. I had to ring her and get the full facts and the alarm bell started to ring. I contacted neighbouring forces and eventually due to leads contacted the Chaplin services at Beachy Head as possibly he was heading there. As the hours passed he was properly reported and his mobile phone was triangulated, that showed he was on the move. Eventually he was stopped by officers who saw him in a state and he was name checked and found. I think we were not too hot on that one in the first instance, but luckily he'd changed his mind after a spell by the sea contemplating life.

Of course very young children lost or separated from parents receive top billing and every thing else that can be dropped is delayed to get uniforms to the scene to search. As the minutes tick by I always get a horrible feeling of dread that is released as soon as the kiddie is found and reunited with the distraught parent.

I think it is easy to be dragged into a sense of just another Misper to report, but in many cases something dreadful has happened to that person. You just have to look at the Ricky Reel case where a young lad never returned from a night out with friends, and was found dead in a river. The police were heavily critiscised for the initial approach in dealing with this, because it was assumed he'd been out with the lads and might have struck lucky with a young lady. In hindsight the people involved would no doubt deal with things differently - but hindsight is a wonderful thing. In reality in most cases there is little the police can do other than make initial enquiries and circulate the individual as missing.

I have myself had to report family members missing to the police. The circumstances were rather extreme as my first wife suffered severe mental illness and disappeared with my daughter who was a toddler. I felt bad in having officers round but they needed to be circulated in case of worst case scenarios. I didn't expect them to be able to do anything I hadn't done myself. I contacted a Northern Force to conduct an enquiry and they were most helpful in doing this promptly, and thankfully the situation resolved the next day.

I think there is still scope for improvements in this area. Many forces now have missing person units to take over longer running enquiries, but as most missing person calls are taken over the phone in the first instance then surely sufficient details could be taken to put on a skeleton report within an hour to allow circulation. If officers are required to attend later and search bedrooms for leads it could be done depending on the circumstances and they then update the report with the results of any enquiries. Of course there will be somebody held responsible if it all goes wrong but that's the world we live in, sometimes it's a lonely place.


Dandelion said...

Well. Responsibility does kind of go hand in hand with power. I don't quite see why the grumble, especially when the police as a unit seems to be so resistant to reform. I still can't understand why anyone would want to work for them.

Blue Eyes said...

What a load of crap Dandelion.

I wouldn't know where to start with a missing person. I mean, if you find the person safe and well nobody gives you any credit but if you don't find them through no fault of your own you are going to get the blame. With finite resources and other cries for help competing for them it is virtually an impossible situation. You can't do more than your utmost. Sometimes that isn't enough and that must be the hardest thing to bear.

Dandelion said...

Actually, Blue Eyes, I think you'll find it is you who is talking crap.

If you find the missing person, you will get plenty of credit from that person's family, they will be unendingly grateful to you. Even though you were just doing your job of course, and you get paid either way.

And if you don't find them, through no fault of your own, then by definition, no-one's got a leg to stand on if they try and blame you, have they?

If the missing person turns up anyway, even though you did jack s**t to find them, then no, you shouldn't get any credit from anyone. And if some harm comes to the person which you could have prevented by doing more than you did, then yes, you should get the blame.

Simples. Not crap at all.

If you wouldn't know where to start, then maybe you should go on a training course? Otherwise, leave it to the people who have.

How you can blame an individual for finite resources and competing demands, and no say whatsoever in the protocols for prioritising, I really do not know.

Blue Eyes said...

The crap I was referring to was your boring anti-police "they are shit and they will never improve so why don't they pack up and go home" comment. You say that logic dictates, well I think you will find that in emotionally charged situations no matter how much the police do, some people will never be satisfied. e.g. there will be some who will always assume some kind of murderous conspiracy no matter how open the cops are. If you want proof of this just look at any of the mainstream papers or BBC. There are never "police do something right" stories.

Dandelion said...

Well, it's a shame if you read my comment that way, BE.

Whether they'll ever improve or not remains to be seen, but so far, they have shown themselves to be very resistant to reform. I agree, it is boring. But that doesn't mean it isn't important. I suppose you think politics is boring too, and trying to make the world a better place...

One would hope that "police do something right" isn't such a rarity as to be newsworthy. It should be the default, happening millions of times every day. You don't tend to see "doctor does something right", either, do you?

And as for "no matter how open the cops are" - have you ever tried to get information out of them? I'm still waiting on a subject access request after 5 months, while they keep finding new ways to pretend that they don't have the info.

Stressed Out Cop said...


I didn't mean it to be a grump more of flagging up a worry - Of course if we mess up then criticise, but we are literally bogged down with looking for missing persons who are not "missing" but absent from care or mental wards. Should we get the blame if somebody turns up dead, depends on the circumstances but in most cases no. Some are regulars being reported 3 or 4 times a week. I think in general the police need another system where the MP can be circulated more quickly ..

Blue Eyes

Finite resources is the key - we will throw everything at finding somebody in danger of harm, based on the information we have .. but on every report just not possible.

I think on my shift the other day we had 8 or 9 reports during the tour and could not get to them all by shift end.

Dandelion said...

I get what you mean about flagging the worry.

But if a person is absent from care or mental health care, then technically, they are actually missing, and they are actually vulnerable. I think it's a shame that it seems the police are "bothered" about the most vulnerable members of society. Just because it might not be a high-profile juicy sex-murder doesn't mean the police shouldn't respond properly.

Buffy said...

Its also a bit of a shame that the people supposed to be keeping these vunerable people safe appear 100% incapable of doing so.
If people stopped letting them out to go missing that would be a fantastic start, but as ever, they can't keep the friggin door shut so Police have to spend hours of resources looking for them.