There were 323 missing person files last year on the West Shore alone.
That’s just less than one a day, enough to make anyone who monitors police news to imagine something terrible is happening. Is there a serial kidnapper? Are kids being abducted or lured into danger?
We asked the West Shore RCMP to help break down the numbers to get some clarity on what 323 missing persons really looks like.
The first thing that comes up is there are a lot of repeat names. Nineteen youth were reported as missing more than once in the year — one youth was “missing” 50 times, that’s almost once a week. The five youth most frequently reported missing made up 89 of the alerts.
Const. Meighan Massey said a lot of them live in group homes with a curfew. Say they’re at a friend’s house and don’t get home on time – it’s an automatic missing person report. Group homes generate a large number of the alerts, she said.
The majority of missing person files on the West Shore are safely resolved within 24 to 48 hours, Massey said. “Most youth missing over that time period have some kind of contact with someone – just not police or parents.”
The point is that usually when someone is missing, it’s not like they’ve disappeared into thin air.
Though Massey understands the fear people can have when they see several missing persons alerts pop up on their social media feeds, seemingly all at once. It’s not hard to jump to the worst possibility that a malicious kidnapper is roaming around.
And that has happened on the West Shore, so that memory is still a part of this community, she said.
Still, of all the missing person files generated in 2020, only one ended in tragedy, a suspected suicide. Six files are old cases from between 1974 and 2020. All the other 316 were safely resolved.
For privacy reasons, when a missing person is safely located their personal information is removed from the website and a new release with limited details confirms they have been found. The Gazette will update any article that’s been published with the result. But people don’t always see the updates, which can lead to a belief that there are dozens of missing people still in danger. Most of the time, that isn’t the case.
Standards for missing person investigations recently strengthened
No matter how many times a person is reported missing, there’s a threshold the RCMP are required to meet.
The B.C. Provincial Policing Standards for Missing Person Investigations were adopted between 2016 and 2018, based on recommendations from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry.
The goal is to overcome inherent bias and make sure that every file is assessed with the same level of importance.
They’ve attempted to reduce barriers for reporting someone as missing and require a quick response from officers, who are expected to treat every case as high risk until an assessment is done. Each detachment has a missing person files coordinator to make sure nothing gets missed, and there’s a lot of extra supervision on these cases.
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