WILLMAR -- The initial response of law enforcement to a report of a missing person varies with the details of the case.
Sergeant Chad Nelson previously spent multiple years working on missing persons cases as a detective and patrol officer for the Willmar Police Department. He said the circumstances of a case dictate how it is handled.
“It’s going to depend on what kind of information we have and how far behind we are. Whether they have been missing for hours, minutes, days or weeks will determine how quickly we need to find the person,” Nelson said.
After completing identifying documentation regarding the person, law enforcement determines whether the person is, in fact, missing.
Law enforcement considers a person missing after receiving a report of a missing person, conducting a preliminary investigation and determining that the person cannot be located, according to missing person investigation guidelines used by the Willmar Police Department and Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office.
If a person is determined to be missing, law enforcement then determines whether the person is endangered.
An endangered missing person is anyone who is at risk of injury or death. These types of missing people may be endangered for a variety of reasons, including abduction, being in need of medical attention, being mentally impaired or being lost in the wilderness.
The information on the missing person is then entered into the National Crime Information Center so that the information can be communicated across agencies.
Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office Detective Kent Bauman has been working on missing persons cases for about 15 years. He said most missing cases do not make it to the investigations unit, as they usually are resolved within a few days or hours by patrol officers.
Law enforcement investigates all missing persons cases through tactics like searches and interviews.
When a missing person is endangered, additional steps are taken, including tracing all incoming calls, reviewing police activity and compiling lists of sex offenders in the area.
The digital age has provided detectives with new methods of tracking missing people. Detectives can gain access to electronic databases, like bank records, through court orders. Social media websites can also be a valuable resource to track a person’s whereabouts.
Lack of information generally makes missing persons cases more challenging, particularly those that have grown cold. (See a related story here about the case of Danny Newville, missing since 2002.)
When a person is missing for more than 30 days, law enforcement provides DNA and dental records to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Missing and Unidentified Persons Clearinghouse. (See a list here of missing persons cases in west central Minnesota.)
If an unidentified person is found, any law enforcement agency can run the information through the database to find out if any of the person’s characteristics match existing records.
Detectives also often revisit the last known locations of a person, use lie detector tests to interview those tied to the missing persons case and continue to monitor activity on bank, internet and credit card accounts.
Law enforcement also may use the media or public information websites to gain public awareness.
Listings of missing people records can be found at http://www.namus.gov/ or https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/bca/bca-divisions/administrative/Pages/missing-unidentified-persons.aspx
Information regarding missing person juvenile cases may be found at http://www.missingkids.com/home.
Those with information regarding missing persons cases may contact the Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office or Willmar Police Department at 320-214-6700.