Wednesday, May 17, 2006
MFHs - a double-edged sword for the police
Whilst there is the odd occasion when someone who is reported missing actually IS missing, and they are most definately "high risk", the majority of cases a patrol officer will encounter are those of people who aren't actually missing.
One example might be kids in a children's home, who fancy a day out and don't return home before their curfew, or let the home staff know where they are. The home staff are obligated to report the children as missing, according to guidelines that vary between organisations, lest accusations of neglect of duty be levelled at them.
Unfortunately, the more wisened youngsters are fully au fait with this procdure, and will hang around town until after curfew, when they know they have been reported missing by the home. Lo and behold, they need only walk into a police station, or better yet, phone up or flag down a passing patrol, and it's a free ride home for them, with a fair bit of paperwork for the poor unsuspecting officer. They repeat the process the next time they're after free transport home. Since the pipsqueaks "are" technically missing, we can't stick them for wasting police time when they repeatedly exploit the system, much as I've been tempted to in the past.
Another example might be if a child doesn't return home after school, at a time when they normally return home. The more decent parents become genuinely concerned, and phone the police out of fear for their young one's safety, albeit often reporting it too soon for the child to be seriously considered 'missing' - they may not have come home for tea or weren't there when the parent went to pick the child up, which on it's own, and reported 10 minutes after the 'deadline', doesn't mean anything. In the vast majority of these cases, the child is usually located at a friend's house, where they decided to go on a whim afterschool, or in the local park hanging around.
Other, less scrupulous parents, will report their child missing because they cannot be bothered to pick them up from wherever they should be picked up. Suddenly, we become their taxi service and are responsible for visiting the usual haunts and seeing if their offspring is there, then picking them up and taking them back to indifferent parents.
Officers have been known to conduct 'thorough' MFH inquiries, which last the length of a tour of duty. They're either very keen to ensure that everything is completed and all angles covered, or the alternative jobs going aren't too appealing.
Once, at about 10 at night when on foot, I found two kids that were missing from home, home being a city some distance a way. After recovering from my initial shock at actually having a genuine MFH case to deal with, I took them to the station, filled out the necessary paperwork and phoned the parents of one of the children (Kid 1). They said they would leave the city later and come to our station to pick their child up. On phoning the other parents (Kid 2's), they point-blank refused to come down and pick their child up, rudely told us the child was in our duty of care, and that we should take the child up to them. My incredulity at this terse response was conveyed to an Inspector, who tried reasoning with the parents, but to no avail.
I phoned back Kid 1's parents asked if they could pick up Kid 2. They declined, as apprently there were four of them coming down to pick up Kid 1 - father, son, son's girlfriend and son's mate. Why it would take four people, two of whom were unrelated to the family, to travel an hour or so to pick up one of their children was beyond me. I tried phoning Social Services to see if they'd do the shuttle run, and they refused as there was noone free. Social Services suggested that a taxi convey Kid 2 back to their reluctant parents, who scoffed at the idea when I suggested it to them. There was no way we could take her back, because we were far too busy with jobs coming in, the relief I was on were due off in half an hour, we had no vehicles free, and the next relief were already tied up with jobs and prisoners.
Things were not looking good for Kid 2, who sobbed quietly as she was repeatedly pushed from pillar to post and failed by everyone who was supposed to look after her, including her parents. Social Services eventually said they'd try and arrange something. I left her under the supervision of an officer next door dong paperwork, and finished my shift. The next day, I came on to learn that she had finally left the station, at 7am that morning. Who eventually decided to take her home I will never know.
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I recently did a genuine case where when I did find the "child" they couldnt care less nor the gobby friends where they were with, infact, the friends she was with were very abusive. I hope they never have kids who go missing and are put through the shit that this girls mother was!
Will keep reading with interest.
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