Hundreds of people aged over 65 were reported missing by Yorkshire’s biggest police force last year - with fears that figure is likely to rise in coming years with the region’s growing ageing population.
West Yorkshire Police recorded 625 reports in 2015 of elderly people believed to be missing. It is understood those cases take up more resources because those affected suffer from dementia and other health problems.
The cases are usually deemed as high risk, meaning the region’s over-stretched police forces have to “pull out all the stops” to find them.
A report by West Yorkshire Police, seen by the Yorkshire Evening Post, reveals the number of reported missing incidents has nearly trebled in the last three years, from 5,608 in 2013 to 15,086 in 2015.
Police say these are largely a result of changes to reporting policy, as people are now more likely to be deemed ‘missing’ rather than just ‘absent’.
There has been a genuine increase in the number of missing person reports because of increased awareness about the dangers of child sexual exploitation.
The report said: “It is often the cases in the 65 and over bracket that create a high level of complex demand through a variety of vulnerability issues such as mental health, general health, and dementia.
“These incidents are generally deemed as high risk and the appropriate number of resources are assigned to that level of risk.
“With an ageing population there is a potential of an increase in the number of missing elderly reported to the police.”
Earlier this year, a letter signed by almost 40 organisations, including older people’s charity Independent Age, Macmillan Cancer Support and Marie Curie, warned of “monumental demographic challenges” posed by estimates that suggest nearly a quarter of the population will be over the age of 65 in just over 20 years’ time.
Police forces have signed up to the ‘Herbert Protocol, a national scheme that encourages carers, family and friends to provide and put together useful information which can then be used in the event of a vulnerable person going missing.
Detective Superintendent Darren Minton of West Yorkshire Police said: “When [a missing person] is recorded as ‘high risk’ missing it is all hands to the pump.
“We pull out all the stops to find that person as soon as possible. Generally it is within 18 hours that we find them across West Yorkshire.
“One of the biggest increases is the 625 people over 65 reported missing, they are vulnerable and might have associations with dementia and mental health problems, which mean they are very resource intensive.
“I don’t think we can afford to change [the number of officers devoted to finding missing people]. It is an indicator of other issues.”
Since 2010, West Yorkshire Police has lost around 2,000 officers and staff members as a result of funding cuts which have seen a total of £140m a year slashed from its budget.
Nick Smart of West Yorkshire’s Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said: “The increases in dealing with missing persons are very significant and have a massive impact on resources.
“Part of the increase is due to tighter recording practices as many of these cases are vulnerable people with risks associated with CSE or mental health.”
He added: “The ‘protective demand’ around missing people is very time-consuming in terms of the number of officers needed to deal with such incidents and can be complex to investigate and resolve.
“As vulnerability is rightly a police priority, these types of calls will only continue to increase. With a diminishing workforce, and the loss of 20 per cent of police officers, resources are stretched anorexically thin.”