From Saskatoon StarPhoenix, November 17th, 2017
A report presented to the city’s board of police commissioners Thursday indicated calls for missing people ranked second in calls for service, as police predict by year-end, 2,764 missing person reports will be generated.
Between April 1 and Sept. 30, police received 1,382 missing persons reports, 625 of which were female youth and 441 for male youth. Between the two groups, 700 were classified as “habitual runaways” which means they’ve been reported missing two times or more.
In one instance, one female youth generated 40 missing person reports, with two male youth generating 50 and 49 calls respectively. In the same time frame, adults accounted for 312 missing person reports and “very rarely” fall under the definition of habitual.
City police are trying to address the issue by working with community organizations like EGADZ through its Operation Runway program.
An interagency-community partnership initiated by EGADZ, the program offers youth a chance to attend support circles where they can talk about why they run with youth mentors, constables from the SPS missing persons unit and community elders.
Since its launch in the spring, 29 of the circles have been held.
“By getting some of these youth to tell us why they’re going missing, we’re going to be able to reduce the numbers,” said Det. Insp. Russ Friesen with the Saskatoon Police Service investigative services.
“If we can find out why they’re running, we might be able to help them with some tools that can better where they are, and make them more satisfied so they’re not always running away.”
Friesen said during the last 10 years, the service has “upped” its response to missing person cases and as part of a now complete pilot program launched earlier this year, select officers within a platoon are designated to work exclusively on missing persons cases once a report comes in.
The goal is to have these officers become experts in missing person cases — knowing where a person might go when they run, or what they might do — enabling them to locate them as soon as possible before a case is handed over to the missing persons unit.
This allows police to find people faster and provides more investigative avenues for the missing persons unit if a case is passed along after a four-day period, while providing officers with in-depth investigative experience in the process.
The Board of Police Commissioners will also be forwarding the report and what’s being done to address the issue to Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Social Services.
Darlene Brander, chair of the Board of Police Commissioners, said stakeholders at all levels of government need to be involved.
“It’s a bigger issue than just Saskatoon,” she said.
“Runaways is just not a police issue. It’s a social issue. The more that we share that (information) with the province and within the community, it helps go toward solving that issue. It won’t solve it completely, but it will work toward at least bringing down those numbers.”
Mark Chatterbok, interim chief of the Saskatoon Police Service, said proactive work around missing persons is important, as the sooner police can identify why a person may be running, the quicker they can intervene with a potential solution and prevent it from occurring again in the future.
“Prevention is obviously the key to this,” he said.
In the previous six month period, police received a total of 1,229 between Oct. 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017 and the SPS is currently investigating 14 long-term missing person cases ranging in length from two years to several decades.
—By Morgan Modjeski, Saskatoon StarPhoenix