Missing persons investigations

Increasing missing person cases are creating resource challenges for the police, since whilst it’s not a crime to go missing from home, the police must establish their whereabouts and ensure that person doesn’t become a victim of crime, for example with vulnerable children or elderly people who have gone missing from care homes.

There are many different types of missing incidents that require different responses.  Some young people run away from home and do not intend to return.  Some adults make a conscious decision to leave home without informing those who are left behind.  Others disappear unexpectedly with no obvious explanation creating concerns that they may have been a victim of a serious crime or may have suffered death or serious harm.  Sometimes these individuals will remain missing for years causing huge distress for their loved ones left behind.

However, disappearances and long-term absences only make up a small percentage of missing incidents reported to the police.  Most individuals reported missing either return or are found within 48 hours.  That does not mean that there is not a significant impact on police resources.  Even if a missing person is located quickly, there can still be a significant police response.  Some incidents require co-ordinated area searches and mobile phone checks because of concerns that the individual is vulnerable and unable to safely interact with their environment or because of concerns that they may take their own life or cause serious self-harm. 

Other incidents attract an immediate police response because of concerns of exploitation.  Although in most of these cases the individual has no intention of running away or leaving home, and they intend to return home later, the police have a duty to find them because of the risk they will suffer abuse and serious harm whilst absent.  This can be challenging especially when the individual does not perceive themselves as a victim or does not want to be found.  This therefore requires a partnership response over a sustained period to safeguard these individuals.  

2019 /2020 Missing Persons Data

England and Wales

  • There were 359,240 calls related to missing persons, a decrease of 6% compared to 2018/19 (382,960) 
  • There were a total of 325,171 missing incidents reported compared to 320,715 in 2018/19. This was an increase of 2% (5,440) in the total number of missing person incidents. 
  • There were a total of 155,211 missing individuals reported compared with 157,546 in 2018/19, an overall decrease of 1%.
  • There were a total 65,800 missing children reported, compared to 67,853 in 2018/19, a 3% decrease. In comparison, the total number of missing adults remained almost the same at 89,128 compared to 89,199 in 2018/19.


  • There were 28,534 calls related to missing persons, an increase of 34% compared to 2018/19 (21,338). This equates to 5 calls per 1,000 population in Scotland.

Northern Ireland

  • Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) reported a total of 11,326 calls related to the number of missing persons reports, an increase of 5% (565) compared to 2018/19.  This equated to 6 calls per 1,000 population in Northern Ireland. 
  • There was a 4% (222) increase in children missing persons reports compared with 2018/19 whilst for adults, the increase was negligible at 0.4% (24).

Most missing people are either found or return within two days. Of all the reported missing incidents in England and Wales, 43% of children returned on their own free will, for adults, the percentage returning on their own was much lower at 30%.

In England and Wales, missing adults were mostly found by the police, and this was the case in 43% of all missing adult incidents. In contrast, police found missing children in 24% of all missing children incidents.

For missing children in England, 11% of incidents were resolved by family members or guardians, 7% by their carer or local authorities and 1% were found by friends or acquaintances. For missing adults in England and Wales, 7% of incidents were resolved by family members or guardians, 2% by their carer or local authority and 2% by their friends or acquaintances.

For PSNI, police found most missing persons in 37% of reports, with 28% of missing persons returning home of their own free will. 6% of missing incidents were found by family members including guardians/foster carers and 3% by a carer or Local Authority.

In Scotland, police found missing persons in 52% of resolved investigations, with people returning of their own free will as the next largest group representing 30% of all resolved investigations. 6% were found by family members including guardians/foster carers. Carer or Local Authority resolution of cases accounted for 2% of all missing person reports and friend/acquaintance at 1% of all missing reports.

Finding Missing Persons

Most missing persons are found or return in the first few days, however if someone is missing for longer than a few days, certain elements of the police investigation might change.

Family Liaison Officers

Sometimes a Family Liaison Officer (FLO) will be allocated to a missing person case.

An FLO will:

  • be a consistent point of contact
  • give families or guardians support and information about the investigation
  • help make sure investigating officers have all the information they need

Forensic material

The police may collect fingerprints or items they can get a DNA sample from like a toothbrush or hairbrush. This can help if they find an unidentified person that they think might be the person they are looking for.

If the police cannot get a DNA sample for the missing person, they might ask to collect a DNA sample from family members.

DNA information from missing person cases is held on a database managed by the UK Missing Persons Unit. Once the missing person is found, the information will be deleted.

The police might also ask for dental and other medical records with permission from the next of kin. 

The UK Missing Persons Unit

After three days (72 hours) the police working on a missing person’s case inform the UK Missing Persons Unit. The UK Missing Persons Unit is part of the National Crime Agency (NCA).

The UK Missing Persons Unit:

  • carries out enquiries on behalf of local forces
  • gives local forces specialist advice and support
  • keeps a database of missing people and found people in the UK, which helps match people up when someone is found outside the boundaries of the local police force where they went missing
  • manages the forensic databases of DNA profiles and fingerprints for missing people investigations

Local police can get help from the UK Missing Persons Unit sooner than three days if they need to, for example if they suspect a serious crime.

Local police can also get expert help from National Crime Agency’s Major Crime Investigative Support (MCIS).

How NEC Software Solutions Support Locating Missing Persons

Police forces use a combination of tools to manage missing person enquiries:

  • Software products such as Compact, Hermes
  • Many forces manage missing person enquiries on Command and Control solutions
  • Forces also utilise existing capabilities within their Record Management System (RMS) such as non-crime investigations in Connect.

Our police records management system, NEC Connect, is used by over 100,000 police officers from more than 16 UK and overseas agencies. And it’s because it goes beyond storing data; Connect enables officers to glean critical insights from the data by linking that data and presenting it in a way that directly mitigates risk.

Below are just 5 functions of NEC Connect that support missing persons investigations:

  1. Automate review periods in hours – Set the frequency of reviews based on the severity of risk posed to the missing person
  2. Facilitate multiple concurrent updates of the same event by multiple users within the core RMS product
  3. Record and collate information which may assist in future missing events which can be linked to subsequent contact with the missing person
  4. To send/receive information on mobiles that can be used operationally during an investigation
  5. Chronology and timeline view providing direction to the investigation, identify patterns and behaviour and assist in investigation management such as reviews and action setting

Find out more

As a specialist in safety software and solutions, we can help you with almost any aspect of your operation. From records and duty management systems to forensics, traffic enforcement, biometrics and control room tech, we’re here to help you protect your community and help you make a difference.

Find out more about our police records management system.

If you’d like to find out more about how we can help your organisation take advantage of the latest technology, let us know at hello@necsws.com or call us on 01442 768445.