Missing Persons Investigation

A missing persons investigation involves finding people who are not where they should be. It can be a complex and emotional case for law enforcement officers.


NCIC records missing persons in categories of juvenile, endangered, disabled, other and involuntary or catastrophe. These classifications may affect the investigative strategy employed by police.

Information Gathering

When a person goes missing, families are understandably distraught and anxious. Fortunately, police departments have a number of tools at their disposal to help find the missing person. They can use technology to find out when the person was last seen, or even where they were. They can also obtain search warrants to go through a missing person’s cell phone records and social media accounts.

They can also use surveillance techniques to observe areas the missing person is known to frequent. They can also search hospitals, mortuaries and other facilities where the person may be. They can also physically follow a suspect, or even employ drones to track them internationally.

At the initial point of contact, it is vital that police are given as much information as possible in order to conduct a risk assessment and identify how urgent an investigation should be. The police must avoid making assumptions and not rely on previous experiences or perceptions. This is particularly important when assessing risks relating to child sexual exploitation, county lines, homicide or other serious offences.

The information that is collected should include:

Identifying the Person

One of the most important steps is identifying the person who is missing. It is vital that police have a clear description of the individual which includes height, weight, clothing color and any tattoos or other distinguishing marks. Knowing the last time the person was seen is also important.

This information can be obtained by talking to friends and family members or through a database search. If the person is known to travel, driving along routes they regularly use such as their home to work route can help investigators build a timeline of where the person may have been. It is also important to check social media profiles and thoroughly review their friends list, pictures and activity feed.

In some cases, people disappear intentionally. They might have a warrant out for their arrest, an outstanding child support payment or they may be hiding from dangerous individuals such as gangs or drug cartels. Identifying the reason for disappearance is important and can help investigators focus their efforts.

Many organizations dedicate their lives to addressing the issue of missing persons and connecting families. It is essential to support these organizations through donations and volunteering. Increasing awareness of the problem can lead to more resources being dedicated and help prevent disappearances in the future.

Developing a Plan of Action

In cases of missing persons, it is important to make sure the person’s biological family members are aware of the investigation. This will allow the investigating agency to contact them for more information and may help in finding the person. It is also a good idea to let your local news stations know that a person is missing and ask them to help spread the word.

Whenever possible, the police should attempt to conduct searches in areas of interest. These searches should be documented to include the risk assessment and any hypotheses that were made. This documentation can be useful in determining what actions should be taken when the case is reviewed by a supervisor.

It is crucial that police officers re-evaluate the risk assessment throughout the investigation. This is particularly true in high-risk cases or where an individual has a history of disappearing on similar occasions. Ideally, this re-evaluation should take place in consultation with the lead investigator or major case manager.

Police should consider contacting fire and rescue services and any other organizations that can provide assistance in searches for missing persons. These organisations can often offer specialised search teams for children and the elderly. These volunteer search teams are an excellent resource and can assist in locating individuals that may be at a higher risk of harm.

Obtaining Evidence

Police should obtain as much evidence as possible during a missing persons investigation. This includes information about the person’s lifestyle, friends and family. This can help the police determine possible reasons a person might go missing, also known as hypotheses. However, the officers should avoid making assumptions. For example, someone who disappears in winter wearing a heavy coat could be trying to avoid being found by people who might be attempting to steal their car or truck.

Other sources of information might include credit card or bank records, social media, phone or pager records and other electronic devices the person might have. Officers should also make a special effort to check hospitals, schools and any other places the person might have frequented in the past.

Missing persons investigations often involve high levels of public interest, and they require careful media management. This is particularly true when the case involves looked-after children, who may not have a family to speak with about their status and whereabouts.

Investigators might use resources such as specialized vehicles, search dogs and a force helicopter to assist in the search. Alternatively, they might hire private investigators who can provide specialist skills and technology. A private detective might also be able to use tools such as GPS tracking software and cellular triangulation software. This can help investigators pinpoint the location of the missing person’s vehicle or other items.