Missing Person Profiling: The Private Contractor Perspective


Missing Person Profiling:

Location, Repatriation, and Assistance Of – The Private Contractor Perspective

This year’s conference topic, following the lead of the Federal Police (AFP) and national missing person co-ordination centre (NMPCC), is “Follow Your Instincts” (i).

There are five general headings that I am going to cover in today’s talk:

1) Beyond the First 48h-7days

2) On National Licensing to Avoid Conflicts of Interest

3) Who Is The Client: Target Long Term Welfare vs Contract Holder Interests vs The State

4) OS Intelligence & Data Mining Software For Licensed Inquiry Agents: GSI’s Approach

5) The Final Review of the “Footprint” Program Findings

Further outlines can be found below.

Brief Introduction:

Over a hundred people are reported missing every week in the more populous states of Australia (6); a figure the Bureau of Criminal Intelligence (BCI) independent report estimates to be as high as some 35’000 people reported missing nationally every year – with an associated search cost of approximately $2’500 of public money per case (~$70 million PA)(ii).

The conference title this year is apt, as missing persons (MiPs) rarely, if ever, go missing in a vacuum (6). Rather, disappearance is far more often the final symptom of an underlying, tumultuous, socio-psychic environment of the subject. This is able to be noticed by those around them, if they are open: both felt on “instinct”, and seen in their behaviours, leading up to, even an initial, exodus event (6 iii).

This “instinct” has been found to be especially apparent if the person in question is in danger; be it personal or otherwise (6 iv). This is known from case comparisons (where appropriate) of initial likely reported cause of the exodus event, given by significant others at t0 (“time zero”), and the motivation reported by the subject on relocation.

Though the vast majority of cases resolve, through either active location, or the subject returning home safely of their own accord, within the first 24 hours to seven days – accounting for approximately 86% (6); there are, of course, the remaining percentage of people whose cases are not so easily resolved.

Of these remaining few thousand people per year, special attention is required for location, repatriation, and/or assistance.

It is at this juncture private contractors will most often be brought in; so that the real police can get on with real police business, at least until something new of merit develops with the case.

And it is the perspective of the private firm contracted inquiry agent, in 2015, that I have been asked to speak from today.

When Is a Missing Person “Missing”?

Arguably the most harmful misconception to come from American television (and there are many to choose from), is the idea that a subject must be missing for 48 hours before a formal report can be filed.

In Australia – anyone who is “missing”, is “missing” right now! Especially if “instinct” informs you that something is “not right” (v).

Furthermore, swift reporting of missing persons see’s them returned safely more often than not before the day is out, and certainly long before private contract inquiry agents are sought (6).

For youth, a mixture of genuine safety concerns (ie accident, injury, suicide ect), or rebellion against authority for less serious concerns, make up the majority of cases – with mental health reasons accounting for the remainder (6).

This remains the case with subjects missing beyond the initial seven days. For this reason, it can be argued, too much of initial missing persons profiling is focused on potential reasons for criminal risk (6).

Functional personality profiling, from the start, would be of great benefit for; location, and local environmental reconstruction, as well as intervention design, to prevent future events after MiPs are returned to the initial environment; to locate likely possible target locations in surrounding states if subject did not want to be found; to identify personal psychological and victimological risk factors to determine more quickly if foul play is likely, or if dual investigative streams should be engaged with equal vigor – among other factors (vi vii).

The research area is dramatically underfunded. However, for the most part, MiPs investigation tends to be tiered: after the federal investigators (AFP), and affiliates, are comfortable enough to classify a given case as “likely outside of the realms of foul play”; location of subjects all too often falls to private contractors from this second tier point; with the rehabilitation components left in the hands of community support groups at a distant third tier (viii).

In truth, the best results would always be from a three pronged approach; making use of resources across all three tiers from the moment the case is opened ix.

Though my work has been focused largely on mitigating career burnout, and better utilization of community resources (until Footprint was flagged for cancellation, sighting funding reasons): I do still have a lot of time for MiPs locator profiling. Especially making use of psychological, field interstate, and cyber tools.

In many cases, international cases in particular; the client(s) often just want to know that the subject is OK. Once target confirmation has been acquired and assessed: often that is enough. The final report on a subject’s location, associates, and activities brings closure for the client. This is what is meant when it is said that the “moderate level harm” of “not knowing” is what requires satiation in certain cases (x).

This is a complicated topic. However, it is further obscured by certain issues relating only to private contractors, dealing with longer term cold cases.

It is these issues I would like to briefly touch on now, and then I’ll take questions.

1) Beyond the First 48h-7days

The affordability of private contractors is beyond many families, and this is, in turn, a cost to the community at large. The argument for a certain amount of federal funding being made available for cases that meet certain criteria shall be made (xi xii).

The co-ordination centres (NMPCC et al) (xiii) do a great job in reconnecting and rebuilding where they can; but we are all only as good as our funding, and the theory driven research that underpins strategic and operational deployment of the limited resource set available (…and its funding. Sorry, couldn’t resist).

2) On National Licensing to Avoid Conflicts of Interest

The merits of a federally required registration system for investigators and inquiry agents, rather than the state and territory clearance system being independent to international licensing, currently in use, will be prosecuted.

As an Officer of the Supreme Court, even as a Notary, in one state; but an Inquiry Agent based in another – I know I have run into some murky, perhaps not illegal, but at the very least “ethically challenging” waters on occasion as to which cases I can accept, and how I may proceed with them.

This is certainly so where interstate (which nearly all are) and (especially) international contracts are concerned.

Further, I have colleagues who occupy various dual roles in public and private practice, across disciplines, that have encountered situations which have seen them removed from the field component of some cases entirely, if not removed from a principle investigation altogether; despite them being the best team member for a given case in that district.

Even with larger multi-state firms, human skill sets in a given location are of a premium.

A lot of these issues can be remedied with a unified national set of legislation/registration/dual role guidelines above and beyond those implemented by private firms themselves.

3) Who Is The Client: “Target” Long Term Welfare vs Contract Holder Interests vs The State

This is a very interesting topic, worthy of an hour on its own. The art of grey areas, and the rights and obligations of inquiry agents:

> Cases of when to return information to a client. If the home environment is “unsavory”, but not illegal – does the private inquiry agent have the right to legally cancel a contract after the fact (the answer – “it depends”);

> If the subject is merely “happier” in the new state – should resources be offered to help establish them there, if, for example, they are in stable work and accommodation, but technically still a minor? Or if they simply give valid, but not legally binding, reasons as to why they do not want to be found: The inquiry agent, and qualified team, as mediator will be explored;

> Reporting obligations of past illegal activities, or minor parole breaches/outstanding warrant notification if not serving in the capacity as an officer of the court (not as cut and dry as you may think).

The final point being that you can not compel a subject to remain in an environment they do not wish to in a cost effective manner – nor is it always necessarily in the best interests of said MiPs, or society more broadly.

It is from this longer term perspective that these ethical issues shall be explored. It shall be argued that early onset offenders of only minor crime, and those who are not criminally engaged, deserve a more target specific, case specific, approach when executing their repatriation options.

4) Open Source Intelligence & Data Mining Tools For Licensed Inquiry Agents: GSI’s Approach

As a field generalist for GSI, in addition to a research adjunct under a QCC code, I believe there are some key areas that the labs and network tech just “miss” (even my own), that real life application highlight as insufficient. Mixed method approaches are always best.

That is not to say cyber tools are less than invaluable – they are invaluable. And there are many items now known to be reasonably consistent to general MiP profiles once the first week has passed, that are all too often overlooked in general investigation practice, but can work well with certain mixed cyber/IRL tactics.

From my own work, it will be posited that the vast majority of post seven day, both criminal and non criminal, MiPs are interstate runaways (xiv). Concentration on crowd locus interstate events from the missing subject’s home profile, and recruiting of public security at said events, will be argued for.

Though this program is focused on non criminal and teenage/young adult cases – some trajectory based theory for early intervention for the most efficient use of public and private resource funding will also be discussed.

This is especially applicable to teenage and young adults at 6 month+ cold case (as most of my work is teenage and young adult cold case); however, with some tweaking, the techniques do have wider applications to MiPs more generally that will be further elucidated.

5) Final Review of the “Footprint” Program Findings

The final round up of what has been gleaned from the “Footprint” project shall be discussed.

Significant findings will be outlined, along with their relevant limitations and implications.

The successes of the program will be heralded.

And the begging for more money will ensue shortly there after.



*JJR is the psychiatry and research science investigator for the Chronicle LS.

[+++] Research Blog Marker


JJR (2015). Ethics and Investigation Conference, JChronLettSc, 015(8), AUG16, Ed4.


i AFP/NMPCC.(a2015). ‘Missing Persons : National Missing Persons Week 2015: Follow Your Instincts’. Web: Missingpersons.gov.au, 15 Aug. 2015.

ii Henderson, M., Henderson, P., Kiernan, C., & Australian Institute of Criminology. (2000). Missing persons: incidence, issues and impacts. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.

iii Foy, S. (2006). Profiling Missing Persons Within New South Wales. PhD [Summary]. Retrieved from http://www.missingpersons.gov.au/~/media/mp/file/pdfs/profiling%20missing%20persons%20within%20nsw.pdf

iv Foy, S. (2007). Profiling Missing Persons Within New South Wales. PhD [Full].

v AFP. (2015). Australian Federal Police: “Follow Your Instincts”. Retrieved from http://www.missingpersons.gov.au/~/media/mp/files/mini%20brochure%20pdfs/missingmythsminibrochure.pdf

vi Fyfe, N. R., Stevenson, O., & Woolnough, P. (2015). Missing persons: the processes and challenges of police investigation. Policing and Society, 25(4), 409–425. http://doi.org/10.1080/10439463.2014.881812

vii Evans,K. (2011). The missing. College & Research Libraries News. 72(6). http://tinyurl.com/nqayt8g

viii NMPCC. (a2015). MP. Myths of the Missing. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/pzmc6yt

ix J.J.R. [A01-3/G] (2015). QCC/GSI Footprint Program Joint Report [Chap4], Canberra, QCC-ANU Press.

x Quinet, K. (2012). The Problem of Missing Persons. Center for Problem Oriented Policing, (66). Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/oakogul

xi International Committee of the Red Cross. (2013). ACCOMPANYING THE FAMILIES OF MISSING PERSONS. ICRC. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/neumyda

xii Grampion (a2015). Intelligence Led Investigation. Missing: Understanding. Planning. Responding.  Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/q2djpk8

xiii Reconnect – Dept. Social Services. (2015). AusGovtDSS. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/o6nqgwz

xiv J.J.R. [A01-3/G] (2015). QCC/GSI Footprint Program Joint Report [SUMMARY], Canberra, QCC-ANU Press.


About J.Chron.Ltt.&Sci. [JRR]

~CogSc (Humour); NeuroPsych; Philosophy (Death/Identity); Methods (Research); Intelligence/Investigation (Forensic); Medical Error~
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