The case of a man who went missing Tuesday and was found safely hours later demonstrated the way in which Fort Dodge police help find adults who have disappeared.
The 65-year-old man was reported missing around 3:30 Tuesday morning while walking his dog. He was later found safe near the intersection of 10th Avenue North and North 22nd Street at about 9:15 a.m.
In cases where an adult or child goes missing, the Fort Dodge Police Department is in the process of working on a policy that will state how missing persons investigations are handled.
The policy is being written, in part, by Sgt. Dan Charlson, who attended a conference on missing persons from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Charlson said police have different ways of responding to missing person reports, depending on whether a child or adult is involved.
“We define a missing child as anyone under the age of 17,” he said. “There are several factors that will make us respond differently. These include if the child is out of their safety zone, has mental or behavioral disabilities, is in a life-threatening situation or is accompanied by someone who is endangering their welfare.”
He added police response in missing children investigations is critical in leading to a successful recovery.
“How we receive the call is going to dictate how we respond,” Charlson said. “If something came up where the child was abducted or circumstances make us believe they are in immediate danger, we will use the resources available to us as quickly as we can to lead to a resolution.”
However, when it comes to missing adults, Charlson said the response depends on several different factors.
“Missing adult cases are a little more challenging based on the fact that adults have the ability to leave of their own volition,” he said. “If they don’t want to return home or they want to change their life, they can do that.”
But as in the case of the man who went missing Tuesday, Chief Tim Carmody said the circumstances will help determine the type of response.
“When you consider the fact that we had an older person who had some medical issues and was gone for an extended period of time, that elevates our response,” he said. “We also had concerns about his safety in the hot weather.”
Other factors in an investigation can help police determine how many resources should be dedicated to the search.
“Are there indications that this is a criminal incident rather than a person who left of their own volition?” Carmody said. “We always evaluate that.”
He added that not every case is the same.
“It’s not a cookie cutter process,” he said. “They’re defined by the situation as we know it in that moment.”
Carmody emphasized that there is no waiting period for reporting an adult missing. Police will respond once a report is taken, he said.
But even when an adult is located safely, that doesn’t mean officers can tell family and relatives what happened.
“If we do locate an adult, we can ask them to notify their family that they’re OK, but we cannot tell the family where they’re at,” he said. “We can’t give them a phone number. It’s inappropriate for us to do that because that’s their wish.”
The Fort Dodge Police Department can also ask for help from the Webster County Sheriff’s Department and Iowa State Patrol in a missing persons case. If the case is considered critical, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation can also be asked to respond.
Carmody said some of those agencies helped out Tuesday with the missing man.
“We alerted the Iowa State Patrol who were able to use their aircraft to help us,” he said. “The Community Emergency Response Team is also available to search in situations like that.”
That response showed the strength between the local agencies, according to Carmody.
“It’s another good example of how good of a relationship we have with our local partners,” he said. “We all work together to provide that service to the community. Every officer on duty and even some that were off were out looking for this gentleman.”
“We deeply appreciate the response,” he added. “It demonstrates the kind of community that Fort Dodge is.”