A unique study led by Dr Hester Parr has improved the way UK police officers relate to missing persons and transformed policing guidance on the handling of missing persons and their families.

Impacts

  • Police Scotland has included changes to 'good practice' handling of missing persons based on research recommendations.
  • Police operational guidance for Scotland now incorporates research recommendations in its best practice guidelines for handling the families of missing persons. Draft guidance for England and Wales also includes this.
  • The research materials and project reports are reaching over 30,000 police officers in England and Wales via existing training resources, based on completion figures for 2012-15, the equivalent to approximately one in four officers over a three year period.
  • Dr Parr and colleague Dr Penny Woolnough sit on the Scottish Government-led Working Group on Missing Persons Strategy for Scotland 2014-2015 - a new policy initiative designed to protect vulnerable missing people.
  • Dr Parr has been appointed to the Advisory Board of the newly established Aftercare Service for the Missing People Charity in Wales.

[The project] findings have made a huge impact on me and gave me a greater insight into the psyche of those who go missing, than anything I had experienced in the past 30 years. This work will provide a sound foundation for the future development of police tactics. (Chief Constable Pat Geenty, Wiltshire Constabulary and UK Police Lead for Missing Persons)

About the research

In the UK, one person goes missing every two minutes. How police treat missing people once they are found matters hugely in how they cope with the experience and the likelihood of them going missing again.

"A key aim of our work was to change police attitudes to missing people," explains project leader Dr Hester Parr of Glasgow University. "Our intention was to use an innovative impact strategy that reminded police officers that these are actually 'people' and not simply a 'time-resource' problem."

Interviews with 45 former missing persons provided unique evidence concerning what happens to missing people when they are absent. "From this material we created ten engaging missing persons 'stories' which powerfully conveyed the emotional and physical experience of being missing," Dr Parr explains. Feeding these stories and their learning points into formal reports, police training, education and policy forums has resulted in new police guidance on missing persons, improved training interventions and a more empathic response from police officers.