What do you do when someone is missing?

Photo by Tracy Wright

Conner McTague, Durham College student

Durham College student Conner McTague was surprised recently when he arrived at his home in Scarborough to find a police cruiser in front of his house.

When he went inside he found out he was considered ‘missing’ by Toronto police. McTague says “Police acted faster than they probably should have”.

McTague had left his home about 5:30 a.m. on Nov. 21, without letting anyone know. When his parents woke up and noticed he was gone they reported him missing at noon after not being able to get in contact with him.

By 1 p.m. a missing person media release was done by Toronto police. He believes his parents overreacted.

What is the proper protocol when someone goes missing?

It’s a scenario no one wants to be in but what if your family member or friend is missing, what do you do?

Do you wait, an hour or two, and then notify police? Is there a timeframe?

In most television shows we are led to believe there is a 24-hour waiting period before contacting the police, however, there is no waiting period to report someone missing.

When a missing person’s report is filed, “every case is different,” says Dave Selby, director of corporate communications for Durham Regional Police Service (DRPS).

Selby, recalls a missing person report that was turned around within minutes.

It was a few years ago, he says a media release was done on CP24 on a guy in Oshawa who was missing, and a man on his way to work spotted the individual as he recognized him from the media release on CP24.

He then called the police. Police cruisers where sent to where the missing person was seen and it was the individual who was reported missing.

Selby explained there are different scenarios to be considered when issuing a missing person report.

It could be a teenager in a halfway house who runs away frequently. They would have to be gone an extended period with no contact, before a search is done, he said.

If there is no history of running away, a search is done in the area where they were last seen, Selby said.

The police follow a procedure when searching for missing people, Selby said.

A complete search is done in the house of the missing person (sometimes if a child is thought to be missing they could be hiding in the home).

If the missing person is still not found, the search is expanded outside the area of the home. Transportation such as bus terminals, taxi and train services are contacted and searched for the missing person.

A media release would also provide information about the missing person, he said. For example, a description of the missing person, last place seen and a photo of the person could be released to the media.

The media release could be on TV, radio and on the internet, Selby said.

There are different scenarios, where it might be considered an elevated risk, he said:

  • Mental health issues where an adult is operating at a junior level or if they have schizophrenia.
  • Someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia has wondered off and not aware of danger they may be in.
  • Medication is needed like insulin for a diabetic as their health and safety is now at risk.

All efforts are put in to place to find a missing person, sometimes a command post is set up at the home, a search party is sent out, Selby said.

All areas missing individuals may go to regularly are checked, and photos are shown.

Regarding his parents’ reaction and the quick response from police, McTague, says “I feel loved and cared for, a bit too much, but it’s nice to know that they care.”