Missing Persons Investigation

Missing persons investigators are police detectives with specialized training and skills in conducting missing person investigations. Typically, they have at least an associate or bachelor’s degree and law enforcement training.


They have many tools at their disposal and can employ a variety of tactics. They also keep records of all avenues of inquiry and hypothesis.

Information Gathering

The information gathering phase involves a thorough examination of the circumstances surrounding a missing person’s disappearance. This includes analyzing and reviewing information from police reports and other sources, conducting interviews with witnesses and family members, and searching through public and private records. The process can be lengthy and tedious, but it is necessary to locate a missing person as quickly as possible.

In order to effectively gather and synthesize information, the investigator must consider all possible avenues of inquiry and hypothesis. The investigator must be able to identify the most relevant information, and discard the unnecessary information. The resulting information should be organized, and it should be reviewed frequently throughout the investigation.

Missing persons investigators must have excellent communication skills, top-notch analytical and critical thinking skills, and a good understanding of the law. In addition to these skills, a formal education in criminal justice or a related field is often required for state licensure as a private investigator. The core curriculum of a degree program typically covers topics such as criminal law, ethics, and the criminal justice system.

Despite the best efforts of police, finding a missing person is not an easy task. This is especially true for long-term missing persons, whose cases are usually classified as unsolved. In these cases, the disappearance may be the result of an intentional act. In such cases, it is important to examine the person’s social networks, diaries, and reading materials.


Missing persons investigations are often complex and multifaceted. They require a variety of skills and techniques, and the investigator may be required to work with grief-stricken family members. This is why missing person investigators are often highly-trained in dealing with emotionally charged situations.

During the interviews phase, an investigator will attempt to obtain information from those who knew the missing person and the circumstances surrounding their disappearance. These individuals may include friends, co-workers, and other associates. Investigators may also interview potential suspects and victims to determine what happened to the missing person.

In addition to conducting interviews, investigators will also conduct background checks and research public records. This research can involve paying informants, contacting public and private databases, and pursuing leads. Missing persons investigators also communicate with local law enforcement agencies and national clearinghouses to share information about the case.

Missing person cases are generally classified as pending, active, or cold. Cold cases are those that have not been updated for more than a year. Currently, there are about 100,000 active missing person cases in the United States. Approximately one-third of these cases involve children.

In some cases, a person may become missing because they have intentionally exited their life. These people are classified as voluntarily missing and involuntarily endangered. Others go missing by accident, such as when they lose their way on a hiking trail or take a wrong turn in a car.


The search phase is aimed at clarifying the fate and whereabouts of missing persons, either alive or dead. It is important to emphasize that this process is distinct from the identification of missing persons and not synonymous with it. It is not possible in the initial stages to assume that a missing person is deceased, and it is necessary to investigate all possibilities until a reliable conclusion can be made regarding their status.

A key aspect for the success of the search phase is ensuring that all relevant information is gathered, recorded and stored in a centralized manner to allow comparisons, analyses and conclusions. This can be a challenge in contexts such as disasters, ongoing or post-conflict, migration, femicides and other situations of violence (OSV), where the number of victims is high, and it is common for incomplete lists to be reported by governmental and non-governmental institutions, families or organisations of relatives.

Moreover, the investigation of missing persons is not conventional and requires an approach that differs from criminal investigations. The search for a missing person can consume considerable amounts of resources. Identifying a missing person may take a long time, and in the meantime the person’s family experiences anxiety and stress, and other citizens are exposed to elevated risks of harm when public safety resources are being consumed to search for a person who is not at risk.


During this phase, investigators document their progress and findings. This can include creating missing persons posters, distributing them in local areas, and submitting them to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. Investigators may also submit reports to local law enforcement.

The NCIC database contains records of missing people of all ages. It is divided into categories such as juvenile, endangered, disabled, involuntary, and catastrophe. These categories can influence the way in which police investigate missing persons cases. For example, declines in the number of missing children under age 18 in NCIC may be the result of improved data classification rather than actual changes in child disappearances.

A private investigator who specializes in missing persons investigations may work on both suspicious and non-suspicious cases. While law enforcement officers must operate under a set of strict protocols, private investigators often take on cold cases that are deemed to be inactive by local agencies or pursue leads that are not considered valid by the authorities.

A missing person investigation can be a stressful and time-consuming process. Investigators must be able to prioritize cases and make the most of available resources. For instance, a missing person investigation may require access to digital forensic laboratories and expert witnesses, both of which are often limited by state laws. An undergraduate or graduate degree program in criminal justice will provide individuals with the skills and knowledge needed to become a private investigator.