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.