For every 2,000 people in Australia, about three are reported to go missing each year due to various reasons. More than half of these missing persons are children and adolescents under the age of 17. And while most of these missing persons in shopping centres are usually found within a short period of time (one study cites more than 90% of missing persons are found within 7 days), the emotional and psychological consequences, as well as the social and even economic implications of missing persons, can be enough to consider them not just as inconveniences, but as major security concerns. And for the few incidents of missing persons that are not resolved favourably, the trauma of such tragedies always leaves a lasting scar on families and society at large.
The hustle and bustle of shopping centres, combined with all the distractions that confront – and usually overwhelm – the human senses make them places where people can go missing in the blink of an eye. This is especially true for children, the elderly and persons with cognitive impairments. It is therefore of utmost importance that security personnel in shopping centres are trained and knowledgeable on how to deal with people who go missing in the shopping centre premises.
Prevention is arguably the most important aspect of dealing with a missing person. Placing all possible checks to minimize the risks of a person going missing should be at the top of any security manager’s list. Measures can include signages at strategic places and public service announcements played at regular intervals reminding shopping centre customers to keep a close eye on their more vulnerable companions, designating proper walking lanes for people accompanied by children, elderly and PWDs, and encouraging the use of GPS tracking devices so that parents or caretakers know where their dependents are at all times.
Shopping centres can also set up stations that are expressly designed for parents/guardians and children who are old enough to meet up in case they get separated and cannot contact each other via phone calls or messaging. These stations can also be used by security personnel as drop-off points for elderly customers or PWDs that they have found to appear lost or wandering aimlessly. The proper steps can then be taken by shopping centre staff to reunite these people with their caretakers.
A more rigid and controversial measure for prevention is the (non-compulsory) registration of all vulnerable individuals and their caretakers, wherein such vulnerable individuals will not be allowed to leave the shopping centre premises unless they are accompanied by the designated caretakers.
Reporting a missing individual in a shopping centre is usually done within a few minutes to a couple of hours after it is determined that the person in question has been out of contact. This is especially quick with regards to missing children and PWDs. However, incidents where unimpaired adults go missing (either intentionally or unintentionally) may be reported and documented only after several hours have lapsed.
Regardless of the circumstances, shopping centre security personnel must treat every report seriously and document all available details regarding the missing person and the circumstances around his or her disappearance. Police assistance is usually available in short notice, if not already present as a matter of local government policy, and shopping centre security personnel are expected to fully cooperate with local police regarding the reporting and documentation of missing persons.
In the setting of a shopping centre, a well-designed video surveillance and monitoring system and the personnel who run and manage this system are the most invaluable assets that will influence the investigation and search for missing persons. Most incidents of missing persons in shopping centres are non-criminal in nature, and the overwhelming majority of missing person incidents can be resolved positively (with minimal emotional and psychological consequence) with the help of an effective video surveillance system, well-trained and professional security officers, and sometimes help from other concerned and well-meaning citizens. There are, however, a few incidents of kidnapping in shopping centres, such as the case of Elizabeth Bell in Sydney in 2017. For these cases, it is important for shopping centre personnel to work in conjunction with police officers to attempt to resolve such criminal incidents favourably, as well as manage the potential implications of these crimes in the shopping centre’s reputation.
In a public space like shopping centres, handling cases of missing persons is something that shopping centre management and security personnel should be prepared for. Both security officers and shoppers should do their part in taking proper precautions to prevent these cases from happening and in taking immediate action once a person is considered missing. Cooperation among patrons, security professionals, and the police is ideal for conducting a smooth and efficient response.
We at Prosek Security understand the risks and threats that retail businesses face. Our team of professionally-trained security officers is well-equipped to respond to such concerns such as missing persons. Contact us and we’ll share with you how our services can help address your specific security needs.