Tackling rising cost of missing persons in South Yorkshire

Dr Alan Billings
Dr Alan Billings
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The rising cost of missing person incidents in South Yorkshire is an area of “huge concern”, the region’s Police and Crime Commissioner has admitted.

As revealed by The Yorkshire Post earlier this month, the force is spending up to £20m a year on dealing with those reported missing, after a significant increase in the number of children repeatedly reported vanished.

Up to one quarter of all the force’s available officers’ time is being spent dealing with missing person incidents, which totalled 8,209 cases between August 2016 and August this year. A large 
portion of those going missing repeatedly are looked-after children or youngsters living in children’s homes.

South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings said that after identifying the demand following an in-depth internal analysis, work is now under way behind the scenes in the region to tackle the issue.

“When you analyse what’s the demand on your force, missing persons is a huge area of concern,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

“It takes money and it takes officer time to find and bring back these people.

“Missing people are of any age and a lot of demographics too.

“Having said that, there are huge concerns around children’s homes.”

He said that children’s homes provide a service and often deal with some of the most vulnerable children in the region.

“But nevertheless, they are often children who do go missing,” Dr Billings said.

“What’s happening is that the homes will often set a curfew maybe 10pm or 11pm and when they don’t come back, what they immediately do is phone the police.

“So we see the spikes at the end of the day and particularly over weekends when the children go out and they don’t come back at the time agreed and they phone the police. The police have to respond – you can’t not respond to this.”

At one children’s home in South Yorkshire, it is currently costing more than £300,000 a year to bring back children who go missing from its premises, according to Dr Billings.

“Now these are huge sums of money,” he said.

“We are trying not to be too critical of the homes because they are providing a service to some very difficult children but it’s clear, having done our analysis, the force now needs to talk to the homes and say to them ‘look, do you realise this is the impact that you’re having?’”

He also highlighted work underway at South Yorkshire Police surrounding missing person reports and collaborations with other agencies, and said it is now blazing a trail for other forces on the issue.

“I’m very pleased with the work that South Yorkshire Police are doing on this,” Dr Billings added.

“I think what they’re doing is groundbreaking and probably ought to have been done before by police forces.”

He admitted, however, there needed to be better collaboration with children’s homes.

“There is clearly a difference in a child going missing for who it’s out of character,” Dr Billings added.

“And a child who is repeatedly going missing, if they are simply not coming back at 11pm when they are told to. They still may be very vulnerable, and we’ve got to understand that.”