The goal of this Law Enforcement Survey – Missing Children (LES-MC) pilot study was to assess the potential for collecting data directly from law enforcement agencies (LEAs) and investigators about the incidence and dynamics of missing children (MC) episodes.
Previously, this information was obtained from a nationally representative household survey; however, declining participation rates and the increasing expense of such surveys produced the need for a more cost-effective means of collecting this data. Consistent with past practice a “missing child” is defined as “a child whose whereabout are unknown to a caretaker, causing the caretaker to contact law enforcement or a missing children’s agency to locate the missing child.” The pilot project was conducted in three stages. Stage 1 tested the instrument and data collection instructions with a small number of LEAs to obtain critical comments on following instructions and completing the survey. Stage 2 tested agency response to survey procedures and response to mailed recruitment materials. Stage 3 tested the recruitment and performance of investigators with two data collection options (online and phone interview) to obtain information on specific cases. Among the conclusions of this pilot project is that searching and providing case number and information for missing children cases is a relatively easy task for LEAs. Most of the agencies could readily provide a count for the year, although this added considerable burden for some agencies. It is recommended that agencies be asked for cases deemed by the dispatcher, investigator, or records management system to be an MC case, rather than conducting a review of all cases handled by the LEA. The online case questionnaire worked well, as anticipated.