Profiling persons reported missing from hospitals versus mental health facilities

Date01 December 2021
AuthorLorna Ferguson
Publication Date01 December 2021
Profiling persons reported missing from
hospitals versus mental health facilities
Lorna Ferguson
(Department of Sociology,) University of Western Ontario, Canada
Missing person reports from hospitals and mental health facilities are a significant issue impacting patients, communities,
and health and police sectors. Research on missing persons seldom considers the type of location from where people go
missing, which can be troublesome due to the increased chances for experiencing harm during an episode from hospitals
and mental health facilities. When location type is studied, these often remarkably different places are frequently blended
together in analyses and discussions. This conflation has implications for research and the development of effective police
preventive responses. To begin to address this gap, this study uses descriptive analysis and logistic regression to examine
the descriptive and predictive profiles of those reported missing from hospitals versus those reported missing from
mental health units. For this, data are taken from a sample of 916 closed missing person cases reported to a Canadian
municipal police service over five years. Results suggest there are significant differences in both the descriptive and
predictive profiles of individuals reported missing from these two location types, such as individuals with varying
mental health and cognitive issues going missing from each place, respectively. Given the findings, the implications for
research, policing, and risk management are discussed.
Missing persons, policing, predictive profiles, risk assessment
Submitted 12 Dec 2020, Revise received 22 Mar 2021, accepted 05 May 2021
In 2019, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
(CAMH) hospital in Toronto, Canada, initiated an exter-
nal review of their policies and procedures after several
patients disappeared from their care, producing various
high-profile missing persons cases (Wilson, 2019). These
events resulted in the expression of strong concern around
public safety, and garnered significant media attention,
particularly because one of the individuals was found not
criminally responsible (NCR) for the murder of his room-
mate (Wilson, 2019). From this review, CAMH (2019)
acknowledged that a critical area for improvement
involves collaboration between police and health sectors
regarding the management and response to missing per-
sons as “police sometimes lack the information they need
to assess risk in [these] cases and locate persons in the
community” (p. 14). Consequently, one of their immedi-
ate recommendations was to “identify a set of key indica-
tors for CAMH and [police] to track, trend, evaluate, and
improve performance on return of [missing] patients”
(CAMH, 2019, p. 5). Although the CAMH evaluation
stems from one location and police service, issues over
the capricious relationship between the police and health
sectors, as well as missing incidents from hospitals, are
discussed in a global context and prevail across several
decades (Bowers et al., 2000; Crammer, 1984; Hunt et al.,
2010; Niskanen et al., 1974).
There is a considerable body of research on going miss-
ing from health settings. However, few researchers have
considered missing episodes from health settings from a
policing perspective (Hayden and Shalev-Greene, 2018).
Corresponding author:
Lorna Ferguson,University of Western Ontario, Departmentof Sociology,
London, ON N6A 3K7, Canada.
International Journalof
Police Science & Management
ªThe Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/14613557211021868
2021, Vol. 23(4) 372–384

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