Legalese — Missing Persons

How many times have you seen it on TV?  Where someone is missing, but then there’s that ‘rule’ that you can’t call the police until they have been missing for 24, or maybe 48 hours.  Inevitably, because it is television, there is obvious foul play, or the family just *knows* and the police won’t do anything because of that policy. How realistic is that scenario?

In Georgia, the law makes it less clear than the television rule.  O.C.G.A. 35-1-18 says, “No law enforcement agency shall implement a policy or practice which mandates a minimum waiting period before initiating a missing person report with such agency….”  This means that the police department cannot say, “I’m sorry, Sir.  We’re not going to take a report on your missing 19 year old daughter because she’s technically an adult and it hasn’t been 48 hours.”  They have to take the report and make note of the situation.

They don’t, however, necessarily have to do anything about it.  The law then goes on to say, “[P]rovided, however, that it shall remain within the discretion of the law enforcement agency to determine what action, if any, is required in response to such a report.”  What this means is that they can’t turn you away, but they can file away your report in an inactive pile.  Hopefully they wouldn’t, and I have not heard of any local law enforcement agencies doing any such thing.

Like most laws, this one most likely has a story behind it.  I don’t know what the story is, and I couldn’t find it when I researched this, but it seems fairly easy to guess.  Someone’s child disappeared, and the local police department didn’t do anything about it because the child was actually 19 and had a history of shenanigans and everyone figured that she’d turn back up a few hours after curfew.  Only something terrible happened that might have been prevented.  So the legislation was proposed.  But then the police officer’s lobby said, “That’s all well and good, but what about all the times when it is just a kid staying out past curfew” and so the police were given back their discretion, so long as they made a report in the first place.  I could be wrong, but I doubt I’m far off base.    

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