Victoria Police say there’s a method to continued postings of missing persons, and for labelling them as “high risk” even if they go missing frequently.
In recent weeks the Victoria Police Department has put forward multiple releases on two such cases, both involving youth who have been reported missing regularly over the past few months.
VicPD spokesperson Bowen Osoko said it’s not a matter of department standards, but rather a mandatory requirement due to provincial protocol.
“Protocols changed after a report from the Pickton inquiry,” Osoko explained, referring to convicted Vancouver area serial killer Robert William Pickton. The ensuing ‘Forsaken: the report of the missing women commission of inquiry’ brought forward several changes to police protocol, including in considering who is high risk.
“In the past people might hear that Jane Doe was missing, and learn that she was a sex trade worker and think that of course she was missing because she led a transient life,” Osoko said. “In reality, she might have been on Pickton’s farm.”
Now, anyone who fits several (or in some cases one) of the following criteria are considered high risk, prompting an immediate issuance of a missing person call out: if they are under 18, female, Indigenous, suffer from mental or physical health issues, suffer from drug addiction, are involved in high-risk trafficking, have a medical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia, or if going missing is uncharacteristic.
“It’s very quick for someone to be considered high risk,” Osoko said. “But for youth files it’s hard to balance out.”
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Osoko was referring to privacy concerns protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act which prevents police from providing details on every situation, for example if missing youth are also avoiding police because they have a warrant out for an arrest. He could not confirm if this was the case for either of this week’s missing youth.
For people who go missing frequently, he said, it’s still important for reports to go out as soon as possible.
“Someone who is going through things may go missing a couple times in quick succession,” Osoko said. “But a large number of our missing people are found after reports were seen on social or traditional media… it does save lives.”
This, he concluded, makes the heavier police workload and the risk of public interest exhaustion worthwhile.