The number of missing persons reports handled by Northamptonshire Police has risen by 50 per cent in just four years.
In 2014, there were 1,199 reports about 812 missing people in the county.
During 2017 there were 1,817 reports about 1,034 missing individuals – a rise of 51 per cent.
And the figures are likely to spike even more dramatically this year – as there were 1,166 missing person reports in just the first six months of the year.
The increase in missing children was most prevalent, with 1,127 reports about 467 individuals in 2017 compared to just 652 reports about 348 children in 2014.
Many of the people in the figures went missing more than once, accounting for the difference in the figures.
The statistics were revealed by the force as part of a Freedom of Information request submitted by this paper.
The number of reports has placed an increasing amount of pressure on a force which has seen its serving police staff numbers drop by 50 in the same four-year period.
Det Insp Andy Rogers has been in charge of the force’s missing persons department for two-and-a-half years.
He said the team has had to change to a more proactive model help with the demands on their services.
He said: “We’ve undergone a number of changes to try to improve missing persons investigations.
“We never had any proactive officers before – my team was office-based.
“We now have 10 police officers and four PCSOs supervised by three sergeants.
“The key thing for us now is that we have specific officers trained to deal with missing people and the continuity they provide can’t be bought – especially with children who have challenging behaviour.”
Det Insp Rogers said the changes to the team were benefiting one girl who has been missing from care a total of 31 times.
He added: “It’s now about getting her the support she needs rather than just bringing her home when she’s run away.
“Some of the missing children haven’t trusted the police in the past. They go missing and they get involved in gang activity.
“There’s now a team of Northamptonshire Police officers led by an instructor and he’ll work with them to build up a relationship and get them something to do that they care about. One of the things they’ve been doing is learning to fix bikes.”
If police officers on the ground find missing children involved in gang activity, they have begun to see them as victims rather than drug dealers.
Det Insp Rogers, right, said: “We identify these boys and girls and we treat them as victims, not as offenders.
“The adults tend to make the children carry the drugs. It’s a scary world.”
Officers can now make use of CAWNS – Child Abduction Warning Notices – which ban suspect adults from having any contact with the vulnerable children.
Det Insp Rogers said the rise in understanding of child sexual exploitation has helped police to better aid some of the missing children. He said: “Many of these children have been groomed from a young age.
“When we look at other court cases around the country, these children say in court that they were just looking for love.”
Northamptonshire Police have been working with the charity Missing Persons.
Using its Safecall scheme, the charity provides a safe haven for children who go missing. It offers the chance to talk openly in confidence to help them form a safety plan.
Officers are also working with hospitals to ensure people know that if they’re leaving hospital but they don’t tell anyone, they will be reported missing.
Det Insp Rogers says he does not know why the numbers of missing people have risen so sharply, although he says he believes it could be down to people being better aware of the necessity of safeguarding vulnerable people.
He said: “The definition of a missing person has changed over the past year – and so has people’s understanding.
“It’s not just children, it’s vulnerable adults and OAPs going missing from care homes.”
Det Insp Rogers said one man who kept going missing from his care home was found walking on the A45. He said that, although the care home could not keep him locked in, after intervention from the force they did install an alarm on the door so they were alerted if he walked out.
Det Insp Rogers said that deciding when someone is missing should be up to the police and that people didn’t need to wait 24 hours to report someone missing.
He said: “If you don’t know where someone is and you are genuinely worried about them then that’s the time to call us – the first couple of hours can be vital in terms of CCTV.
“If you feel someone’s missing and at risk of harm, it’s always right to phone it in.”
You can find out more about guidelines here.
The 13 children still missing from 2017
Most missing people are found safe and well, but since 2017 three adults and 14 children have not been found.
These include 13 Vietnamese children who went missing in a complex case after they were found on the back of a lorry in Corby.
They were placed into care but went missing at different times during the following weeks.
Two were located, but one went missing again.
Det Insp Rogers said: “They didn’t really speak to us and that makes it difficult to say if they’re modern day slaves or economic migrants.
“Part of the problem was that when you’re 18, you’re considered to be an illegal immigrant and taken into custody.
“So everyone will say they are a child.
“Modern day slavery is something we’re trying to increase awareness of as a force.
“People are oblivious to it.
“We arrested four illegal immigrants in a nail bar in Corby and while we were there, people were still coming in to get their nails done.
“They don’t care. They get a good price for their nails.
“But the people in the nail bars are being abused.”