MORE THAN 800 people aged over 65 were reported missing by Yorkshire’s police forces last year – and the region’s ageing population means the total is likely to grow in the coming years.
The total of 625 reports of missing elderly people made to West Yorkshire Police in 2015 represents only four per cent of the county’s total of missing, but the cases take up more resources because those being searched for often suffer from dementia or other health problems.
Neighbouring North Yorkshire Police and Humberside Police each had nearly 100 reports of missing people aged over 65 made to them last year. South Yorkshire Police were not able to supply figures to The Yorkshire Post.
A report by West Yorkshire Police, seen by The Yorkshire Post, has revealed that the number of incidents of people reported missing has nearly trebled in the last three years, from 5,608 in 2013 to 15,086 in 2015.
Police say these are largely a result of changes to reporting policy, as people are now more likely to be deemed “missing” rather than just “absent”, though there has been a genuine increase in the number of missing person reports because of increased awareness about the dangers of child sexual exploitation.
The report said: “It is often the cases in the 65 and over bracket that create a high level of complex demand through a variety of vulnerability issues such as mental health, general health, and dementia.
“These incidents are generally deemed as high risk and the appropriate number of resources are assigned to that level of risk. With an ageing population there is a potential of an increase in the number of missing elderly reported to the police.”
Because of the vulnerability of the missing people, the cases are usually deemed as high risk, meaning the region’s over-stretched police forces have to “pull out all the stops” to find them.
In North Yorkshire, police have been searching for two weeks for missing Harrogate 77-year-old George Bass, who has yet to be found despite being spotted in Leeds and York and a series of appeals being issued by officers.
Mr Bass is not understood to have any mental health condition that would have contributed to his disappearance.
Earlier this year, a letter signed by almost 40 organisations, including older people’s charity Independent Age, Macmillan Cancer Support and Marie Curie, warned of “monumental demographic challenges” posed by estimates that suggest nearly a quarter of the population will be over the age of 65 in just over 20 years’ time.
Police forces have signed up to the Herbert Protocol, a national scheme that encourages carers, family and friends to provide and put together useful information which can then be used in the event of a vulnerable person going missing.
Detective Superintendent Darren Minton, of West Yorkshire Police, said: “One of the biggest increases is the 625 people over 65 reported missing. They are vulnerable and might have associations with dementia and mental health problems, which mean they are very resource intensive.
“I don’t think we can afford to change (the number of officers devoted to finding missing people).
“It is an indicator of other issues.”
Since 2010, West Yorkshire Police has lost about 2,000 officers and staff members as a result of funding cuts which have seen a total of £140m a year slashed from its budget.
Nick Smart, from West Yorkshire’s Police Federation which represents the force’s rank and file officers, said: “The increases in dealing with missing persons are very significant and have a massive impact on resources.”
He added: “As vulnerability is rightly a police priority, these types of calls will only continue to increase. With a diminishing workforce, and the loss of 20 per cent of police officers, resources are stretched extremely thin.”