OLYMPIA -- The unexplained disappearance of a family member or friend can be terrifying, but a partnership between the Attorney General’s Office and other state law enforcement agencies has produced some new tools to help police respond and assist those facing a missing-person crisis.
More than 300 police organizations across Washington today were mailed a missing-persons “toolbox” containing a model police policy for handling missing-person cases and a booklet to aid those whose friends or loved ones have disappeared. The packet also includes information from the Washington State Patrol’s Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit, and a DVD developed by the Seattle Police Department to train law enforcement officers in the handling of missing-person investigations.
“ There can be no more frightening experience than the unexplained disappearance of a family member, co-worker or friend,” Attorney General Christine Gregoire said. “Police need effective policies and procedures for responding to missing-person cases, and people confronting these crises need to know what they can do to assist. We think these materials will help in both respects.”
The toolbox is the product of the Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Task Force, a group convened by Gregoire to review Washington law enforcement’s response to missing-person cases and the related issue unidentified human remains. Formation of the task force—which included county, state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as victims organizations—followed publication of a Seattle Post-Intelligencer series on law enforcement’s response to missing-person cases.
The task force concluded that there was room for improvement and agreed that the most effective response would be to form a partnership to develop and distribute the information included in the packet.
While some of the material is intended primarily for law enforcement, the booklet entitled, “Your Loved One is Missing!!!” provides information explaining what citizens should do if someone they know has disappeared, and steps they can take to help police resolve the matter.
The booklet explains that contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to wait at least 24 hours before reporting a person missing to police. It also offers a number of suggestions for helping police, such as gathering basic information about the missing person, including the type of vehicle they were driving, any known travel plans and what the missing person was wearing.
The booklet also points out that being a missing person is not a crime, and once the person is located, police cannot divulge information about them without the person’s consent.
The booklet is available on the Attorney General’s website.