Topic:
CRIME; JUVENILES; INVESTIGATION; LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS;
Location:
CRIME AND CRIMINALS; POLICE;

OLR Research Report


January 9, 2007

 

2007-R-0037

STATE POLICE MISSING PERSONS PROTOCOL

By: Veronica Rose, Principal Analyst

You asked if (1) the Division of State Police has a policy for investigating reports of missing persons, (2) state police officers are trained to conduct such investigations, (3) local police must follow the State Police policy, and (4) local police must notify State Police of missing persons.

SUMMARY

The State Police policy on missing persons is outlined in the division's administrative and operations manual. The policy prescribes investigative and search actions that police officers must take in response to reports of missing children and adults. All state police officers are trained in handling missing person investigations, according to the State Police legislative liaison.

There is no requirement for local police departments to follow State Police policy and no uniform policy that local police must follow. Some (e.g., Cromwell and Hartford) have written policies; others (e.g., West Hartford) have unwritten policies.

State law coverage of missing persons is limited. It requires only that local police (1) receiving a report of a missing child under age 15 immediately accept the report and notify all on-duty police and other appropriate law enforcement agencies and (2) submit reports of all missing children under age 18 to the Connecticut State Police Missing Child Information Clearinghouse. The law does not, for example, prescribe (1) information that missing person complaints must contain, (2) criteria for evaluating and responding to complaints, (3) investigative or search techniques officers must employ, or (4) steps officers must follow when dealing with complaints. And it does not address missing adults.

Federal law requires police to report each case of a missing child under age 21 reported to them to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). And it prohibits police from establishing or maintaining a waiting period before accepting a missing child or unidentified person report. Its scope, like state law, is limited.

Several local police officials and the State Police have indicated that they handle missing person complaints on a case-by-case basis, basing the promptness of their response and the intensity of the investigation on the circumstances of the specific case. For example, the response to a report of a missing two-year old will differ from the response to a report of a 14-year old reported missing on three occasions and located each time at a friend's apartment in West Hartford. Similarly, the response to a report of a missing person who suffers from Alzheimer will be different from the response to a report about a spouse reported missing on several occasions and located each time gambling at the casino. Also, a complaint must contain enough descriptive information about the missing person to form the basis of an investigation and search. None of the policies we reviewed includes a waiting period for initiating an investigation or search.

The National Center on Missing and Exploited Children (NMCEC) has issued guidelines for dealing with missing children. The State Police policy parallels these guidelines.

STATE POLICE POLICY

State Police policy calls for the officer assigned to a report of any missing person (including children, juvenile, and adults) to (1) assess the situation and “immediately” complete an initial report (Form DPS-159-C) that includes a physical description and personal history of the missing person, (2) disseminate this information “as soon as possible,” (3) determine an appropriate initial search effort based on the specific circumstances of the situation, and (4) search the person's residence and last known location.

The policy states that the responding trooper should consider a greater initial investigation or search in the case of a missing child or an elderly or other at-risk person. If the child is under age 16, the trooper must immediately notify the troop desk. The troop desk must alert all on-duty personnel and provide a description of the child, his last known location, and other pertinent information. The responding trooper must complete a local area search and report on this investigation. The duty supervisor must notify the troop commander if it appears that initial efforts or a follow-up investigation will require more resources than the troop can provide.

Police may activate an AMBER alert when it is strongly suspected or confirmed that a child is abducted and considered endangered. Connecticut's Amber Plan is a cooperative effort among the State Police, the Connecticut Association of Police Chiefs, local police, and the Connecticut Broadcasters Association. It calls for broadcasters immediately to interrupt their programming to broadcast information over the Emergency Alert System about a non-family child abduction. The plan does not cover runaway children or children taken during custody disputes.

For the plan to be activated, (1) the child must be under age 18 (but older children may be considered on a case-by-case basis), (2) law enforcement officials must determine the child is in danger of serious bodily harm or death, and (3) they must have enough descriptive information to believe that a broadcast will help. If the situation meets these criteria, a local police official or trooper contacts the State Police message center, where staff records an audio alert with the information. This emergency message is sent to two primary radio and television stations, each of which airs an emergency tone and then either interrupts programming or scrolls the message at the bottom of the screen. Other media pick up the message from these stations.

The policy also outlines additional procedures for investigating missing person complaints. These include procedures for entering missing person information in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) missing person file and the Connecticut On-Line Law Enforcement Communication Teleprocessing system (COLLECT).

LOCAL POLICIES

There is no requirement for local police to follow State Police policy on missing persons. And there is no uniform statewide policy that departments follow. Some departments, like West Hartford, have unwritten policies; others, like Cromwell, Enfield, Hartford, and the State Capitol Police have written policies. Based on anecdotal information, most departments have written policies.

The policies typically address:

1. the type of information that officers taking missing person complaints must collect (including the missing person's name, age, health, mental capacity, and risk factor);

2. procedures for collecting, evaluating, and disseminating the information internally and to the State Police, where required;

3. investigative and search action officers must take and techniques they must employ;

4. the responsibilities of various officials (including who is responsible for entering information in the state or national database, where required, and who coordinates the investigation and search); and

5. criteria for activating an AMBER Alert and entering the missing person information in NCIC and COLLECT.

None of the three policies we reviewed (Cromwell, Hartford, and the State Police) has a waiting period for initiating a missing person investigation. But in the case of adult missing persons “where the absence appears to be voluntary, Hartford's policy states that officials should determine how long the person has been missing and “the complainant should be encouraged to call Tele-serve back after a reasonable period of time has elapsed.” “Reasonable period of time”, under the policy, is a function of age and life circumstances.

Some departments (e.g., Hartford) have a unit specifically for handling complaints and investigations involving missing persons.

Copies of the policies from Cromwell, Hartford, and the State Capitol Police are attached.

CONNECTICUT LAW

Local police departments receiving a report of a missing child under age 15 must immediately accept the report and notify all on-duty police officers and other appropriate law enforcement agencies (CGS 7-282c).

Local departments must submit reports of all missing children under age 18 to the Connecticut State Police Missing Child Information Clearinghouse. Parents may also notify the clearinghouse once they report to local police. The clearinghouse is the state's central repository of information on missing children and others, and the information it collects is to be used to help locate missing children. Among its other statutorily defined responsibilities, the clearinghouse investigates reports of missing children (in response to local requests) and cooperates with other law enforcement agencies' investigations, tries to assure that its information is accurate and complete, and has established an intrastate system for communicating information on missing children (CGS 29-1e).

Within available resources, the clearinghouse may collect, process, maintain, and disseminate information to help locate missing persons other than children (CGS 29-1f).

FEDERAL LAW

The National Child Search Assistance Act prohibits federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies from establishing or observing a waiting period before accepting a missing child case. It also mandates these agencies to:

1. enter, without delay, reports of missing children under age 21 into the state law enforcement system and NCIC and make it available to the state's Missing Children Information Clearinghouse or other agency designated to get such reports,

2. update identifying information on each case in NCIC within 60 days,

3. pursue proper investigative and search action, and

4. maintain a close liaison with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) for the exchange of information and technical assistance in appropriate cases (42 USC 5779 and 5780).

NATIONAL GUIDELINES

NCMEC's book, Missing and Abducted Children: A Law Enforcement Guide to Case Investigation and Program Management, 1994) contains guidelines for police action in cases of missing and runaway children. It states that “law enforcement agencies having clearly defined policies and procedures concerning all aspects of their missing child response are considered to be conducting aggressive investigations and securing successful case closures.” Comprehensive policies, it asserts, should describe the roles and responsibilities of officers or units assigned to specific investigative functions and should include directions concerning actions to be taken when a report is received.

The guidelines divide the report and investigation process into four components: call intake, first response, investigation, and supervision and prescribe actions for each. They suggest that (1) the person receiving the call should first inform the caller that an officer is being dispatched to the scene; (2) the police agency should have standard, pre-determined questions to ask and should relay the responses to the responding officer; (3) the agency should possess the ability to quickly check its own records for prior reports on the child; and (4) the dispatcher should notify all on-duty units of the report and provide them will all available information.

The guidelines recommend that a patrol officer should respond promptly to the report by going directly to the child's home. Checking area parks and playgrounds is better left to other units in the area. At the scene, the officer must verify that the child is missing (sometimes the child will have left a message on an answering machines explaining his whereabouts), interview the parents and others present to obtain a detailed description of the child and the circumstances of the disappearance, try to determine how far the child could have traveled since last seen, and determine the nature of the risk to the child given his age and developmental level. In the case of a possible runaway, the officer should find out whether he or she has run away before and should check with friends. All interviews should be conducted separately. The officer should treat the area as a crime scene, obtain permission to search the home, evaluate the contents of the child's room, and make that evidence is protected.

After the initial call and response, the agency should assign an investigator to the case. After a briefing from the responding officer, the investigator should begin the case evaluation by checking police records for relevant information and by reviewing the information already collected. Based on this, he develops an investigatory plan and determines any additional or specialized resources needed. In the case of a runaway, the officer should first focus on the child's family, lifestyle, and friends, interviewing all of them as well as school personnel. He should look for recent changes in personality, behavior, appearance, and friends and should find out whether the child is alcohol or drug-dependent. Friends are

particularly important subjects, since they often know more about the runaway than the parents, and some studies have shown that runaways sought help from friends in 60% of cases studied. The investigator should also check child protective service records.

The guidelines recognize that law enforcement agencies must set priorities in determining which cases require intensive investigation. They provide a checklist of circumstances indicating that a child is an “endangered runaway” and state that “strenuous efforts to locate the child should be immediately put into effect.” These circumstances include the missing youth (1) is under age 13 or mentally incapacitated, (2) is drug- or alcohol-dependent, (3) was missing for more than 24 hours before the police were notified, or (4) is believed to be in a life-threatening situation or accompanied by adults who could endanger his welfare.

POLICE TRAINING COUNCIL

By law, the Police Officers Standard and Training Council must establish uniform minimum education and training standards for employment as a police officer. The council provides four hours of training on missing persons. It provides additional training in this area as part of other units in the curriculum (e.g., criminal investigations and COLLECT).

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