A SPIKE in the number of missing people reported to police in Southend is putting a huge strain on officers, a chief inspector has said.

Simon Anslow, Southend district commander, said his officers have received 53 missing person reports in the last two weeks – 37 of which were children.

He has estimated that each missing person report costs, on average, around £2,000 of police effort to process, at a time when Essex Police are facing major budget constraints and cuts to staff.

Mr Anslow said as of yesterday (Tues) there were seven active missing people cases in Southend and that 50 of the 53 from the previous two weeks had been found.

He said: “It’s not a sustainable situation for us, on a day to day basis it is a consistent demand.

“We need to see whether this recent increase in people going missing is a one off spike that comes along every now and again, or a longer trend.

“But when we have ten missing people at one time then it is a large proportion of the police force to keep looking for people.

“The risk for us comes from putting our resources into finding the missing people, means that we are restricted in our other duties.”

Police have their own missing person liaison officers who work with Southend’s Integrated Youth Support Service to identify reasons why young people go missing, and to reduce the risk of a repeat occurrence.

Each case is also reviewed by Mr Anslow and while most missing people cases are not crime-related and return home within 24 hours the borough’s top cop was keen for police to still be involved in searching.

He added: “We still have the power to impose protection orders and section people for their own safety, which other authorities do not have, so we still need to be involved.”

His view was shared by former Southend top cop and Police and Crime Commissioner candidate in 2012, Mick Thwaites.

He said: “Ninety-nine times out of 100 missing people are not a police issue, but who is going to make that decision to not deal with a missing person when there is a chance of someone ending up dead or injured.

“Police is a 24-hour service and it is meant to be a caring service but due to cuts it no longer has the capability to care and we are just ending up with a blue light response service.

“If it’s not the police that deal with missing people then there needs to be another publicly funded authority to take it on.”

In numbers - Southend's missing people:

The last two weeks to Sunday, November 15: 53 reports (37 children)

When chief inspector Anslow went off shift on Monday morning: 10 open cases

Number of open cases on Tuesday, November 17: 7

Total missing person reports between April 2014 and March 2015: 399 (33.25 per month)

Average cost to police of processing a missing person report: £2,000

Support workers doing all they can

SOUTHEND’S Integrated Youth Support Services (IYSS) is led by Carol Compton MBE, and sees council officers work with police to find out why youths go missing, and work to prevent them doing it again.

IYSS carry out ‘return to home’ interviews when a missing youth is found in the hope of identifying support they, and the family or carers, may be in need of.

Ms Compton acknowledged that the number of missing people reports has increased recently, but she said that may be due to increased awareness and reporting.

She said: “Southend has taken its responsibility towards hidden harm, child sexual exploitation (CSE) very seriously and extensive training has taken place throughout the Borough.

“There is now a much greater awareness nationally of CSE so this may have had an impact on the level of reporting.

“Being missing is one of the indicators for CSE.

“However, the predominant causal factors continue to be familial and ‘one off’ occurrences but we will of course keep on monitoring and evaluating.”

While Southend police station is being renovated officers are working from the IYSS office and Ms Compton has seen a benefit.

She added: “I believe the Police have seen a general improvement in resolving missing person enquiries involving children and we are working to make this significantly better and more coordinated in the future.”