In-Depth: Number of missing/runaway teens on the rise

[anvplayer video=”5075905″ station=”998131″]

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — If it seems like you’re seeing the faces of a lot more missing and runaway teens in our community, you are. The bad news is there are more of them, the good news is that the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office is finding most of them faster with the help of the public.

In 2018, there were 143 missing person cases reported to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. In 2019, there were 165 and in 2020, 122. So far in 2021, there have been 178 cases.

It seems weekly News10NBC is getting at least one notification from the Sheriff’s Office looking for help from the public locating a missing teen.

“If we have a missing persons case and it’s in one of our zones, we have anywhere from eight to 10 deputies out looking,” explained Sgt. Matt Battone.

While those deputies still use traditional police methods, since the Spring, they’ve also been making a concerted effort to flood other platforms too.

“We said we can do social media and we can get this out to thousands of people almost instantly and then obviously we add-in sending it out to the news and you guys can put it out to hundreds of thousands of people, quicker than we can,” Sgt. Battone said.

Jennifer Lewke (News10NBC) – In most of the juvenile cases, are they with friends, are they out on the streets… Where are you finding them?

Sgt. Battone – A lot of it is defiance, I want to be an independent person… I’m 13 and 14— I can go out and do what I wanna do, when I want to do it and that is what a lot of it is. We find them at their friend’s house, or their boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s house. In many cases, places that they probably should not be because they are with people that are not making great choices. Sometimes one bad decision leads to another bad decision and there’s been times where we found people that are committing crimes and then we run their name and they’re also a missing person.

Jennifer Lewke – Do most of the teens come back on their own, do they get freaked out that they see themselves everywhere and decide to come back or do you go find them after getting tips?

Sgt. Battone – A little bit of this and a little bit of that. A lot of times they won’t answer their parents’ calls and they won’t answer our calls but all the sudden their friends started blowing up their phone saying, “Hey do you know that you’re on channel 10 and you’re on the sheriff’s office social media” and all the sudden it kind of sparks that… maybe I should reach out to my parents.

Jennifer Lewke – How do you find the balance of, I guess privacy with this kind of method?

Sgt. Battone – That is one of the things that our investigating deputies will talk to the family about and say we can use social media to my knowledge we haven’t really gotten a lot of pushback, maybe sometimes you know families are private and if they’re going through some sort of a private situation especially for a juvenile in their life they don’t want the entire world to know so, we do we have to balance it.

Jennifer Lewke – I assume after they are found, the sort of next chapter is like connecting them with social services that they may need to avoid this from happening again.

Sgt. Battone – Correct, and I think I’ve said it to you before Jenn I love our FIT team. They may be able to break some of those barriers that have been preventing them from getting the mental health services they need. Around the holidays, unfortunately, we do sometimes see an uptick in mental health calls and missing persons calls because sometimes we’re just very overwhelmed in life and we don’t necessarily know where to turn.

Sgt. Battone – And not all of the missing person cases are juveniles. We had an older gentleman that had some cognitive issues and he went missing, I think he was going to the grocery store he was supposed to be home by a certain time and all the sudden he wasn’t home. We used traditional methods to search for him, drones, dogs infrared technology but then that case came down to… we put it out on our social media, we sent you guys a media blast… you guys then put it out to all of your viewers and I think within a half an hour we had somewhere between five and 10 calls into 911 that saw this person, he was walking down the street. We were able to get cars in that area and within a half an hour of putting that out there, we locate him.

Some of the missing person cases this year are a result of a new reporting requirement for foster/group homes. If a teen does not return to the home by curfew, guardians are required to report him or her missing.

As a policy, News10NBC shares the pictures of teens on-air and online while they are missing but pulls them down once they have been found.

News10NBC requested data from the Rochester Police Department about the number of missing person cases it has handled over the last few years. A spokesman said he is compiling information but tells us that members of the Rochester Police Department will immediately and thoroughly investigate all reports of missing persons. There is no required waiting period for reporting a missing person and responding officers are responsible for a thorough preliminary investigation of all reports.

Those same officers will be responsible for routinely and continuously following-up unless the investigation is assumed or transferred to the Central Investigations Section. For all cases involving exigent circumstances, and all cases involving missing children and young adults, the follow-up investigation will be immediate and continuing.