Missing people falling through the cracks due to budget cuts

The potential for missing persons to come to significant harm has risen due to decades of cuts to police budgets, rising demand and a lack of training, a new study has found.

Sep 16, 2021
By Tony Thompson

Report authors Dr Karen Shalev Greene, director of the Centre for the Study of Missing Persons at the University of Portsmouth, and Mark Greenhalgh, polled 373 police officers and staff and found a mixture of low morale, lack of training, too few staff and poor-quality investigations.

Their report is the first to examine whether cuts to police budgets introduced since 2010 have had any impact on missing person investigations.

The number of people who go missing in the UK every year is around 150,000, generating more than 300,000 missing person reports to police.

One fifth of police officers polled said they had received no training in missing people investigations, with some saying this risked their ability to perform well.

Dr Shalev Greene said: “We found overwhelming evidence among police officers and staff at all levels around the lack of robust training in handling missing people investigations.”

“Demand on the police outstrips supply of officers consistently, in every department for almost every type of crime, but it appears to be particularly acute for missing people investigations.”

“Police resources are allocated according to the degree of threat, risk and harm, but this doesn’t appear to be translated to missing people investigations. People who go missing can be at very high risk of harm, but the numbers just aren’t there to protect them.”

The report found some officers are assigned to work on more than 30 missing person cases a week, and Dr Shalev Greene said it is only a matter of time before a shortage of resources means someone comes to serious harm.

There was overwhelming support among those questioned for forces to have dedicated missing people teams, which are highly trained and have a clear line of accountability.

Dr Shalev Greene said: “It’s disappointing to hear that while many in the police can see the sense in working upstream, preventing high-risk people from going missing in the first place, most say their own force doesn’t have the resources and is always on the back foot.

“It’s not just those who go missing who are at increased risk of coming to harm, police officers themselves are feeling exposed, their own wellbeing is threatened and many talked of burnout.”

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