With Runaway Back Home, ELPD Explains Approach to Missing Persons

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Friday, May 24, 2019, 1:45 pm
Jessy Gregg

Above: East Lansing Deputy Police Chief Steve Gonzalez.

A 16-year-old runaway girl who was the subject of a recent Nixle alert from the East Lansing Police Department has returned home safely. ELi spoke with Deputy Chief Steve Gonzalez for more information about how the ELPD handles missing person cases.

According to Gonzalez, the significant factors in the recent runaway incident were the age of the missing person and the length of time she had been missing. In many cases, Gonzalez told ELi in a phone interview, running away is part of a pattern of behavior and the missing person is easily located by following the pattern.

Sometimes a juvenile will run away from home but still show up for school, for instance, or can be found at a friend’s house. It is only after police have eliminated those types of possibilities that they notify the public, which is what happened in the recent case.

Running away is classified as a “status offense,” a category that only applies to juveniles. Similarly, underage consumption of alcohol would also be a status offense.

Gonzalez explains, "They are not considered criminal acts, but the violations allow for the juvenile court to take them into their juridiction for corrective action. This allows the police to intervene as needed, but more importantly, the court can order certain programs to provide help to the juvenile to treat underlying issues that are contributing to the behavior."

Gonzalez pointed out that once an individual has reached adulthood, being absent from home is not a crime, so in those cases police would only become involved if there was a fear for the individual’s safety.

ELPD regularly receives calls from the parents of MSU students, for instance, when their children are out of contact for an unusual amount of time. In those cases, officers attempt to ascertain that the individual in question is not in danger, but don’t take any other action since no crime was committed.

Police do take action when adult individuals are considered “missing and endangered.”

Gonzalez explained that there are several facilities in the area where people with cognitive disorders or disabilities live. When a person with impaired faculties goes missing, it is important to find them quickly since they are more likely than the average person to be in danger, especially in winter when cold presents a risk.

Gonzalez told ELi that there is a misconception that people aren’t considered missing until they’ve been gone for more than 24 hours.

“That’s not the case,” he said. Police have a better chance of tracking down a missing person if they know “immediately.”

“The sooner we know, the more leads we can track down.”

You can sign up easily for Nixle emergency alerts here.


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