The Faster the Police are Notified, the Better
By: Joseph Giacalone
I hope that no family ever has to use this checklist, however, far too many people go missing in the United States and throughout the world every year. As a former investigator, I know what can delay the investigation into these types of cases. The most important thing that family members can do to help the police in missing persons cases is to notify them quickly. Many families launch their own investigation which eats up valuable time. The longer that time frame from when the person goes “missing to notification,” the less likelihood that the case will end positively.
Note: Most, if not all jurisdictions do not require a waiting period to file a missing persons report!
The next thing that family members most be able to do is keep calm and focused, because they may hold the keys to solving the case. We are often victimized by someone we know, so it is important to keep a clear mind. I understand this is easier said then done, but the emotions have to be controlled for a short period of time in the initial phases of the investigation. Not every missing person case involves foul play. Therefore, remembering where the person said they were going, who they were going to be with, how they were getting there, etc., are all vital bits of information for investigators.
Whether the missing persons case is one where foul play is suspected or not, investigators have a number of persons that must be interviewed or when they are conducting a door-to-door canvass. During the initial stages of a missing persons case, the family should be ready to provide the following information as completely as possible to the police:
- A recent color photograph of the person
- The person’s full name, Date of Birth, Social Security Number
- Home address (apartment number if it applies)
- Cell and home phone number
- Email address
- Social Media usernames (especially for children and teens)
- If they are currently enrolled in school, which one
- Work address and phone number
- Vehicle information (make / model / color / body type / registration (license plates) / condition of vehicle (i.e. was it recently worked on? They may have broken down somewhere)
- Clothing description
- Time frame from when the person was last seen until the family realized something was wrong (not the time they notified the police)
- The location and type of scars, tattoos, birthmarks, surgeries or other identifying traits / marks, etc.
If the investigation goes beyond thirty (30) days, the family must be mentally prepared to supply the following:
- The investigator will need a DNA Exemplar (from a hair brush, toothbrush, pillow case, hat, etc.) – allow the investigator to obtain the exemplar so contamination can be mitigated
- The name of the person’s Dentist so that dental records can be obtained
- A list of doctors that may have the taken X-Rays
What can the family do to help in missing persons cases?
I strongly encourage the family to stay in contact with the investigator(s), but don’t overdo it. Every case is important to the police, but unfortunately, investigators often find themselves working on several cases at once. One question that I always heard was, “How can we help?” There are several things that the family can do to assist in the investigation:
- The family can print up, hand out and/or post flyers-always include a recent photograph. However, only the number for the police investigator should appear on the flyers, not your personal information!
- Engage in Social Media pages – i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Google+
- Work in conjunction with the police to establish a monetary reward if one is not currently available (Crime Stoppers generally only provides money for criminal events)-once gain no personal contact information
- When speaking to the media, avoid blaming or suspecting anyone, or criticizing the police
- Use the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System or NamUs for short (see related articles)
About the Author
Joseph Giacalone is a retired Detective Sergeant and former Commanding Officer of the Bronx Cold Case Squad. He is an Adjunct Professor at John Jay College and author of The Criminal Investigative Function: A Guide for New Investigators.