THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - The faces of missing people from the Thompson-Okanagan have poured into news feeds over the last few months, but police say it’s nothing out of the ordinary for this time of year.
Spokesperson for the RCMP Const. Kris Clark says the summer months typically see more reports of missing people.
“You’ve got the people that didn’t want to go missing, that’s constant throughout the year,” Clark says. “With better weather, we often see an increase in the willingly missing, often youth who went to hang out with friends. They’re not missing, they just don’t want to be at home.”
Police assess each case individually to determine whether appealing to the public is needed, and Clark says many files don’t get released.
“If we put every missing person out in the public it would be overwhelming, it would be information overload,” he says.
So when you see a missing person report in your news feed or on the news, it’s either because police have exhausted all other options or because the individual is considered high-risk. A high-risk missing person might be someone with a mental illness or substance dependence, Clark says.
“If it’s a high-risk individual we’re going to get that information out immediately. We want all eyes out there looking to get that person back to safety,” Clark says.
But if it’s not a high risk situation, for example a neighbour who hasn’t been seen in a little while, police have to weigh the benefit of releasing the person’s name and photo against keeping their personal privacy in tact. While every case is different, Clark says police will speak with friends, family and acquaintances before resorting to a public plea for help. They may learn the neighbour is in fact on a camping trip or out of town and not missing at all.
“If there’s no immediate concern for their safety we want to ensure we do everything to maintain their personal privacy,” Clark says.
With the help of social media, Clark says missing youths are often found and accounted for much faster. Once they see their photo labeled as missing pop up on Facebook, many phone home and let their parents or guardians know they’re all right, or at a friend’s house.
But activity on a missing person’s Facebook account or electronic contact alone isn’t enough to close a case.
“Social media, text messages, and email is not proof that the person is making contact. There’s no way to verify where those communications are actually coming from,” Clark says. “Despite someone posting on Facebook or whatever, there’s still a responsibility on our part to ensure that person is safe. It comes down to that person returning home or us speaking to them directly.”
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.