Social media, community action seen as key to finding missing persons

Published On September 24, 2020 | By Nicholas Rahmon | News
Nicholas Rahmon

As the GTA continues to face the challenges of COVID, experts say attention still must be paid to the issue of missing persons, and how to bring them back home safely.

According to the RCMP, it’s believed that somewhere between 70,000 to 80,000 Canadians each year are accounted for as missing to police

Anyone who files a missing persons report will get the support of the local police to find surveillance footage, interview neighbours, and send out an informative tweet once a full description is established.

Bob Athwal, a detective under the York Regional Police for nineteen years, sees the reports as a very important tool in the social media age to spread awareness on something which can potentially save lives.

“Utilizing social media is a great tool for a multitude of reasons where everyone has social media, one platform or another. The demographics that you’re likely to hit are much better than if you were to just use your standard media or radio broadcasts,” Athwal said.

Although this trend proves its effectiveness to help spread the message towards more people across the city, the issue lies within the community to establish a group for dire situations as one of their own missing, even those of an older age unable to take care of themselves, he said.

Joelle Chaaya, a forensic psychology student at Brock University, believes the full support of a community is needed when someone goes missing.

“What communities should do when someone goes missing is work in small groups and build upwards,” Chaaya said.

“For example, if someone went missing on their way home, the neighbourhood should check their surveillances to see if anyone can capture when the person was last seen,” she said.

“In terms of the elderly, there should be a system in place where neighbours check on the elders in their neighbourhood especially the ones who live alone,” she added, referring to cases where older people die in their home and aren’t found for days.

Athwal explains how the signs have become more noticeable on whether an elderly person seems to be taking a walk around the neighbourhood or have strayed away from home.

“Someone who’s suffering from Alzheimer’s that’s elderly, they have a tendency to walk in a straight line. So they’ll leave their house, and they’ll just continuously walk straight,” he said.

He explains those suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s will have a monitoring device, similar to a bracelet or ankle device, to help assist law enforcement when it comes to tracking the individual.

“Another thing is just have more of an awareness piece with your parent or someone suffering from Alzheimer’s and take some safety precautions [and establish] the measurements in place where you can you tell them if you wind up walking for an hour stop here, and I’ll know that this is the predetermined spot that we have discussed in the software,” Athwal said.

He also recommends mentioning to the elderly in our lives “if you find yourself lost, maybe leave a baseball hat. That at least shows we’re on the right track.”

And seniors can be at risk.

According to a survey conducted by the City of Toronto, 46 per cent of seniors continue to stay active by walking every day and 12 per cent are isolated. on their own with no one to call on for help

“If you recognize the signs of someone who seems to be disoriented or confused, maybe approach that person and ask them if they’re ok or need assistance,” Athwal said.

Athwal also suggests if approaching someone may be apprehensive, the next best thing to do is “call the non-emergency line saying… I saw an elderly person, distraught, out of sorts walking northbound on and he’s wearing this. Have you had any reports with a missing person recently?,” he said.

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