Missing persons back on the rise after decline during pandemic

The number of missing persons in Toronto went down when COVID-19 hit. But now the numbers are rising again.

Who knows why.

Streeter asked Toronto Police Services (TPS) that question. The answers are a mixed bag: some people go missing innocently, others go missing for devious reasons.

Some go missing because they have cognitive problems. They wander from their homes then can’t remember their way back.

Even when police find them they can’t remember their address and can’t tell police where they live.

Other cases are nefarious — people who deliberately want to go missing.

“Someone typically goes missing because they are either running from something, or running to something,” said TPS Media Relations representative Stephanie Sayer.

Sayer says it’s important for police to get as many details as early as possible when family or friends notice that someone close has suddenly disappeared.

“It’s essential to front load the investigations, especially since missing people always have a head start,” she said.

Using up police resources

To add further anxiety to those worrying about a loved one who’s missing is the possibility they might encounter harm from others, or might succumb to life-threatening weather.

“Research has shown that the longer someone is missing, the more likely they are to be at risk,” Sayer said.

Missing persons are the most resource intensive investigations that take up police time.

Here are just a few resources TPS uses to locate missing persons: the Missing Persons Unit, aircraft, drones, mounted police, police dogs and the marine unit.

Sayer said police rely heavily on the public to locate missing persons. Every tidbit of information the public can provide is important to police as they search.

“Members of the public are an integral part of these investigations,” Sayer said. The public’s help can shorten the time police search for a missing person.

“Oftentimes, once we share our missing people through news releases or social media, we receive helpful tips, and sometimes our community members actually locate the missing person.”

But locating a missing person is not the end of it.

Community organizations and families play an important part to help police ease the missing person back into his or her community and family life.

“Organizations within the community also play a large part, as we can turn to them to put supports in place for our missing people and/or their families once they return,” says Sayer.

Here are TPS statistics from the TPS Homicide and Missing Persons Unit showing the number of missing Toronto persons from 2019 to 2022, showing the initial decline during the pandemic and the increase since then.

  • 2019: 5,146
  • 2020: 4,052
  • 2021: 4,159
  • 2022: 4,435

Figures for 2023 are, of course, not known yet but the rate of missing persons cases so far this year indicate the numbers will surpass those of the previous year again.