Missing: An Explanation of Terms Used and Criteria

March 18, 2014

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Ever wonder how the Anne Arundel County Police Department determines which missing persons cases to broadcast to media and to the community? How about how they determine which cases are classified as critically missing? We got a chance to speak with T.J. Smith, Public Information Officer, from the Anne Arundel County Police Department about these things and decided to pass on the information to our fans.

First of all, there are a lot of factors that go into a missing persons case. Police department policy is to “accept, without any form of mandatory waiting period, a report of a missing person” and to “diligently investigate all reports of missing persons, whether they are adults of juveniles.” Their age, mental capacity, or other special circumstances can determine if the Police Department classifies the case as a missing person or as a critically missing person. A child under the age of 17 is automatically a critically missing person by law, but these cases are not always broadcast to the general public. An example of a case that would not be broadcast to the general public would be a 17 year old who is known to be a habitual run-away. While a 17 year old habitual run away would be a critical missing case, the police department generally does not post them.

A missing adult, as defined by by the police department, is “any person eighteen years of age or older, whose whereabouts are unknown and unexplainable for a period of time that is regarded by knowledgeable parties as highly unusual or suspicious, in consideration of the subject’s normal behavior patterns, plans or routines.” When that missing adult has special circumstances like being elderly with dementia or Alzheimer’s, suicidal, suffers from mental/physical impairment, or if there is evidence of foul play, police department policy is that the adult is then considered to be a critical missing adult.

An AMBER alert, separate from a critically missing child, is placed when the police department has received and confirmed a reported child abduction and the following:

  1. The child is 14 years old or younger. Consideration is given for a witnessed abduction of a 15-17 year old. A child under the age of 14 cannot legally give consent for any action.
  2. Evidence exists to further believe that the child is missing against their own will and not simply missing (for example, a runaway).
  3. There is evidence that suggests that there is a threat to the child’s safety
  4. The child is likely to be within the broadcasting area of Maryland
  5. There is a victim/suspect description, along with a direction of travel, vehicle information, or something that can be described for the public to look out for.

A silver alert is also different from a critical missing adult broadcast. Just like an AMBER alert, a silver alert also has criteria that the person must fall under, including a cognitive impairment. In order for a silver alert to be issued, the person must also be traveling in a vehicle with enough descriptive information about the missing person and vehicle, there has already been a local or regional alert (most likely in the form of a press release) issued by the agency, and the missing person’s disappearance poses a threat to their own health and safety.

The Anne Arundel County Police Department takes missing persons very seriously. They initially search the immediate area, contact friends and family, and partner with other agencies if it is believed that the person may have left the area. There are pages of policies that the police department must follow when it comes to a missing person, critical missing person, silver alert, and AMBER alert. Whenever the Anne Arundel County Police Department releases something on a missing person, critical or not, we will re-post it. When there is an AMBER alert or Silver alert, we will post it. The Anne Arundel County Police Department has done a fabulous job with utilizing social media (Twitter/Facebook)and getting information out in a timely manner, especially for missing persons.

Information for this article was obtained through conversations with T.J. Smith, Public Information Officer, from the Anne Arundel County Police Department and on the Anne Arundel County Police Website

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