Missing Persons Investigation Flow Charts

A missing persons investigation involves a search for someone who has gone into hiding. These cases can be some of the most challenging assignments a police officer can face.


It is important for law enforcement to be able to prioritize these types of cases. Missing person cases can sometimes turn out to be far more serious than first believed.

Information Gathering

When a missing person report is made, police officers must gather as much information as possible. This helps them determine the level of risk and how quickly they should act to find the missing individual. In addition to the personal details of the person who went missing, officers must also consider whether they have been missing before and if there are any underlying issues.

All missing persons sit within a spectrum of risk, from low to high-risk cases that require immediate, intensive action. When assessing risk levels, police officers should avoid making assumptions and be sure to take the time to discuss any reports with their colleagues. They must consider all of the factors that could influence a person’s disappearance and take into account any other issues that are known to affect them, such as mental illness or disability.

The first point of contact in a missing persons investigation should be the call handler(opens external website in new tab). They are responsible for identifying the priority and level of response that is required and will also be able to advise on how urgent a case should be. They should ask all of the key questions that are outlined below when taking initial reports:

During a missing persons investigation, law enforcement uses different types of technology to find the missing person. These tools can include license plate scanners, online databases and social media to search for a person who may have gone missing.

Flow Charts

Flow charts are an excellent tool for visually conveying the steps involved in a process. They can help staff see where the information is coming from and who is responsible for each step, and can be very helpful in identifying areas of potential improvement.

During the initial enquiry phase there will be a wide range of avenues explored and different hypotheses about what has happened to the missing person. Keeping good records and notes on all lines of enquiry is important and will save time in the long run.

Enquiries with organisations such as mobile phone providers, banks and credit card companies may be able to provide clues as to the location of the missing person. In some cases it is possible to access live-time communications data (see Passive data generators).

As the investigation progresses, consideration should be given to obtaining DNA samples where appropriate. However, this needs to be balanced against the risk of causing distress and should only be considered where it is reasonable to do so.

A family liaison officer (FLO) may be appointed to support the family during this difficult time. Their role is to assist the SIO and communicate information between the SIO and family members.

Database Searches

As police detectives or private investigators, missing person investigators use a variety of methods to locate people who have disappeared. They may pay informants, search the Internet and public databases, interview witnesses and pursue leads. They also work with family members to help them track their loved ones.

Police will often devote as many resources as possible to a missing persons case, especially if it involves a child or a vulnerable adult. They will issue AMBER Alerts and other specialized reports to draw attention to the case. They may even deploy search dogs, or put out posters and bulletin boards with descriptions of the person.

Another resource available to police is the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, which has information on more than 800,000 cases. The website allows families of missing persons, law enforcement and medical examiners and coroners to access the database and search for potential matches among forensic samples submitted by prosecutors.

Other important resources that a missing person investigator might use include the Combined DNA Index System, which lets forensic laboratories compare suspects’ genetic profiles to those of known criminals, and NamUs, which provides investigators hands-on access to the FBI’s national criminal information center records. Unlike NCIC, NamUs’ searches are not limited to only the current year, and they include nicknames, middle names, family names and other variations of an individual’s name.

Human Sources

The human factor is often the most crucial element in a missing persons case. A single act of carelessness or an unexpected change in circumstances can lead to a person disappearing. This is a worldwide issue that affects all communities and socio-economic statuses. Fortunately, the vast majority of people who appear in the NCIC database are located and/or recovered.

Many factors contribute to the occurrence of disappearances, and the risk of foul play varies from case to case. A disappearance involving a child may be viewed as a low risk of crime, while an adult prostitute or a person with a disability who went wandering from their home may be at a high risk for abduction or murder.

During a missing persons investigation, police will interview family members, friends and other acquaintances. Interviews can reveal important clues and help investigators establish the last known whereabouts of the individual. They can also help investigators determine if the disappearance was intentional or not.

DNA profiles generated from close relatives of the missing person can be searched in CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) a national DNA database that will compare samples against Missing and Unidentified Persons physical evidence records. It is critical that a family member provide a sample with no personal or medical information.

Missing persons investigations require significant resources and the help of the community. Public appeals can be made on social media and other platforms to spread the word about the case and to generate leads. Vigilance can also be key.