Cost of missing persons investigation revealed

The results of the first scientific study in the UK to examine the cost of a missing person investigation are released today.  The study by the Centre for the Study of Missing Persons (CSMP) at the University of Portsmouth estimated the cost of an average* investigation to be between £1325 – £2415.

The first figure is the estimated cost of a medium-risk, medium-term investigation based on a detailed analysis of time spent investigating missing person cases and involving input from over 400 police officers and civilians.  The second figure is based on examining a real life case and was judged to be the more realistic figure overall.

The study was carried out in conjunction with West Mercia and Warwickshire Police Forces whose officers completed a specialist survey about their time on missing persons investigations.  It also analysed an actual medium risk missing person case undertaken by West Mercia Police in 2011.

£2415 equates the annual cost of missing person investigations to 19,188 police constables working full time or 14 per cent of the total number of full time police officers in the UK.  Based on a comparison of Home Office figures, it means that a case investigating a missing person costs roughly three times more than a violent crime or robbery and four times more than a burglary.

There are approximately 327,000 missing person reports to the police in the UK each year – almost 900 reports per day, according to the U.K Missing Persons Unit (Serious and Organised Crime Agency).

Dr Karen Shalev Greene

Dr Karen Shalev Greene

Director of the CSMP, Dr Karen Shalev Greene, said that the estimates from the study are the most precise and clearly evidenced costings available to policy makers to date and will assist the police in budgeting and resource allocation.

She said:  “Missing person investigations are inevitably resource intensive. Although every missing person case is different, several tasks are common to most inquiries. They include taking an initial call from a concerned member of the public, logging a call, risk assessment, obtaining a photograph, undertaking a house search, and a PNC check.

“The police computer system automatically generates 12 tasks to be carried out at the opening of new missing person inquiry and while some of these tasks can be carried out in a few minutes while others are likely to take hours and may be repeated many times. Activities such as liaising with colleagues, reading updates and the completion of reports are all likely to be more time consuming when liaison with other police forces is required. From speaking to officers it is clear that there is a persistent impression that even ‘routine’ missing person investigations can turn out to be rather time consuming and hence, costly.”

Assistant Chief Constable Karen Manners of Warwickshire & West Mercia Police said that missing persons investigations are part and parcel of police officers’ daily life.

She said:  “The Alliance of West Mercia and Warwickshire Police recorded and investigated 8661 reports of Missing People in the year 2011/12, representing around 24 missing people a day.

Over 50 per cent of police investigations concern people who were reported missing on multiple occasions (between 2 and 100 separate occasions).

“To date, there has never been a scientific attempt to calculate the cost of a missing person investigation or to precisely assess the time it takes for police officers to investigate these cases.

Our collaboration with the CSMP is the most extensive research conducted and I am pleased that our efforts will help to locally and nationally inform practice, procedure and resource allocation in this critical area of police work.”

Dr Shalev Greene said:  “Scientifically determining the cost offers a bench mark for determining any potential savings achieved in dealing with missing persons through policy changes or interventions. It will also highlight the financial cost of missing persons to policy makers. Finally, it will make explicit the cost of such investigations to local partners which may affect inter-agency policy making.

“But it’s important to remember that there is a large variety in the circumstances surrounding missing person investigations and sadly, the outcomes can be devastating.  The costs of missing persons investigations are not just financial and for the police and other agencies to bear – they incur a great deal of social and emotional costs as well.”

*The estimated figures are based on the minimum a police officer would have to do and the report acknowledges that the cost of high risk, high profile or long term missing person investigations will be far higher and can only be arrived at on a case by case basis. On the other hand, in the majority of cases a missing person is located within less than 12 hours. The costs of these cases will be somewhat less. Thus, the medium risk, medium range case can be seen as average.

Dr Shalev Greene said that although this is the most extensive and detailed costing study in this area to date, there are inevitable limitations to the study.

“No single study can lay claim to having the last word in cost estimates and there is more to missing person research than medium risk medium term cases and high profile high risk missing cases with a long duration can only be costed on a case by case basis.”

Joe Apps, Manager at the UK Missing Persons Bureau, welcomed the report.

He said:  The report highlights the substantial amount of police time and resources applied to the safeguarding of missing people – critical work in public protection.

“Viewed in conjunction with our figures on the numbers of missing persons incidents, these results suggest that police forces across the UK are allocating significant resources each year in the protection of vulnerable missing people. This new research links closely with proposed changes to the Response to Missing Person Episodes and forthcoming Reducing Bureaucracy initiatives and it quantifies the resources expended by police forces in safeguarding.”

View the full report


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