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Missing persons handling overhauled
Police forces across the country will change the way they deal with missing people following failures in cases such as the Rochdale child sex ring.
Plans announced will stop officers getting called out to around a third of missing people cases with the aim being to free up officers' time and improve the way forces deal with children who repeatedly go missing from care, and might fall prey to sexual abuse.
Pat Geenty, the lead for missing people for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), said: "Whenever we get a call and someone is reported missing, we would normally dispatch a police officer, irrespective of the circumstances of the case. So you see that's a huge demand on police resources."
Police deal with around 327,000 reports of missing people per year, the equivalent of around 900 per day, two thirds of which involve children. Under the plans, call handlers will class missing persons cases as either "absent", when a person simply does not arrive where they are expected to be, or "missing", where there is a specific reason for concern, which can be that the disappearance is out of character or that they may be at risk of harm.
Mr Geenty said police are sometimes used as a "collection service" for children who go missing from care homes, and added: "What we're asking for now is that the care homes act as responsible parents, do the initial work that's required in terms of trying to find out where the missing individual is, and then if they have concerns to ring the police."
Pilots of the new system have been carried out in Greater Manchester, West Midlands and Staffordshire, and Sussex Police has been using the definitions for three years, with figures from the pilot showing that under the new system around a third of missing people cases are likely to be classed as "absent", therefore officers will not attend. In one force 31% of cases were classified as absent, and in another 39%.
Under the plans, each force in the UK will have missing persons co-ordinators who will check whether a child is going missing frequently to detect any patterns of behaviour.
David Tucker, head of policy at the NSPCC, said the charity fears the new definitions could put children at risk, adding: "The length of time a child goes missing is irrelevant because they can fall into the clutches of abusers very quickly."
Missing People chief executive Jo Youle said: "Regardless of whether the police classify a child or young person as missing or as absent, it must be recognised that there is always a wider safeguarding issue.
"Current evidence suggests that it is important for police to ensure that a missing persons co-ordinator is in place to monitor patterns and identify risk, that return home interviews are provided for missing and absent children and young people, and that police work closely with statutory and voluntary sector partners across the different categories."