Missing Persons Investigations- Use Private Investigators vs Law Enforcement or Both?
Every year, about 800,000 people are reported missing in the United States. Majority of these cases are minors and children that run away from home, get lost or are kidnapped, although there are quite a number of cases of middle-aged and old persons being reported missing as well. Some are found alive and healthy, some—after years of searching—are still missing. And in extreme cases, some are found dead; and these are usually the cold cases. Missing person cases are no joke and its investigations are even more serious.
A missing person is anyone who, for one reason or the other, has “disappeared” and cannot be found by friends, family or associates.
Missing persons cases have different categories, some of these include:
- Catastrophic missing: When the missing person is a victim of disaster e.g. a person going missing after a plane crash or maritime accident.
- Lost: When a missing person’s whereabouts are unknown because he/she strayed e.g. hikers or tourists getting lost.
- Stranger Abduction: When the missing person is abducted by a stranger.
- Runaway: When minors intentionally run away or leave their home without communicating their whereabouts to their parents.
- Suspicious Circumstances: When the missing person’s disappearance is out of character or suspicious.Some of these cases demand merely a few hours and require only simple methods to solve them ; Methods like organizing search parties, checking places where the person frequently visits and asking around because a lot of the time the person involved gets lost or ends up in situations where they are unable to communicate their whereabouts to their families. But at other times, kidnapping or abduction is the main reason for a person’s disappearance, and in such situations, the person is at risk of being harmed and even being killed. At times like these, simple investigative measures are insufficient and a more in-depth and thorough investigation must be carried out quickly to find and rescue the abducted person(s).The process of finding missing persons begin when the case is reported. Unfortunately, federal laws require a person to be gone for 24 hours before he/she can be termed “missing” by the police and efforts be made to search and rescue. By that time the person may have already suffered harm or worse, death. Private investigators, on the other hand, can start searching immediately if the case is assigned to them.The first step is to gather as much information as possible. Get information about the subject, like their full name, height, age, hair color, skin complexion, eye color, physical build, and anything that can be used to physically identify them. Recent pictures that can be distributed should also be collected. A checklist can be drawn up with details and descriptions to help gain better insights about the person and the situation around his/her disappearance.This checklist should contain the information above along with:
- The habits and personality of the subject
- The subject’s favorite hang out spots and other places of interest
- Their job description and where they work
- Description of the clothes worn the last time the subject was seen
- Mode of transportation most frequently used
- Mode of transportation used the last time the subject was seen
- Destination of the subject before disappearance i.e. where they were going before going missing
- Temperament and disposition when last seen
- Physical and mental health conditions
- Disabilities, if any
The next step is to contact the subject’s family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues for information on whereabouts and most recent sightings of the subject. Investigators also canvas the area around the subject’s place of residence or where they were last seen and stop to check the most likely places they could turn up. Hospitals are one of these places as the subject could be hurt, in the ICU, and is unable to contact family members. Jail cells in police counties or stations should also be checked as subjects may have caused trouble and gotten themselves arrested. For example, a subject who is inebriated may be stopped by the police and arrested for disturbing the peace.
Search parties should be organized, at this juncture, to help with searching the area. Parks, lakes, reserves and other recreational areas should be searched thoroughly, going over them at least twice for any clues. Trained dogs may also be used to search for the subject using their keen sense of smell.
If the sweeps don’t turn up anything awareness should be raised via social media and other channels. Missing posters depicting the subject’s face should be put up in strategic locations, not only in the subject’s neighborhood but also in neighborhoods close by. Awareness should also be raised through TV messages and radio announcements.
If the subject is still missing after all the media awareness then investigators are required to deepen their search. Checking the subject’s phone records should be done. The records may easily be accessed if the subject is a minor but if the subject is legally an adult then investigators may need a court order to check phone records. The subject’s social media activities should also be checked. Their last check-in location on Facebook or who they were with in their last Instagram post could give clues to their whereabouts. Their credit card records should also be checked. The location of the last transaction could be a big lead.
State and federal records and database should also be checked. Investigators can use the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, which is an online tool that cross-references missing persons. Investigators can also access the Main Name Index-a-listing of names in the United States.
Investigators tend to have a network of other investigators, law enforcement and informants that they can use to gain information that would otherwise be unavailable to every day citizens. After gathering this information from records, database and networks the investigators then follow the leads and this often leads to the locating of the missing person.
Private investigators usually share their findings with law enforcement agencies. This is useful in situations where the subject has been kidnapped and is in danger. The authorities can then step in—after the subject has been found—and rescue the subject. Private investigators are usually the faster option when looking for a missing relative or loved one as they start immediately and will keep working the case for as long as you want them to. Law enforcement agencies, on the other hand, rule a person “legally dead” if he/she has been missing for seven years.
Christopher M. Cavallo
Chris Cavallo has been involved in every facet of the Security and Investigations Industry for over 40 years. He started his career with the two largest Security and Investigation Companies in the world at the time, Wells Fargo Security and Pinkerton’s Security and Investigative Services. After spending 2 years as a Management Trainee with 11 months in the field as an Undercover Operative he quickly raised rose through the ranks and became one of the most highly recognized Security Consultants for the next 10 years. He is considered a subject matter expert in various Security/Investigative practices such as Security Guard Services and Background Investigations.
He ended his career with a Fortune 50 Company as the VP of the SE Region. He then co-founded a company, RSI Investigations (Records Search Inc.), which was one of the pioneers and leaders in the Background Screening industry in the late 80’s. After this experience, Chris founded Cavallo Associates working with Security, Defense, and Investigation Companies and helping them develop their Business Plans and training their personnel while opening new markets in such places as Rome, Italy, several Central America countries and Bogota, Colombia. Today Chris is a Florida Licensed Private Investigator and Security Consultant and continues to dedicate himself in both the Security and Investigations Industry. Presently he is mentoring, developing and sponsoring several PI Interns and overseeing the CSI Security Division as well. Both business units operate under the brand name CSI Secure Solutions headquartered in Davie Florida with offices in Bogota, Colombia. Chris and his wife Caryn Rae Robin a local singer and popular voice Coach live in Davie, Florida with twin daughters Stefanie & Cristina and are very proud Grandparents of Christopher 14, Stefan 12, Legend 9, Roman 6 and Mia 5.
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