MORE than £1 million has been spent by police tracking down missing people this year – including one teenager on 77 separate occasions.
Officers in the south-east of the city are spending at least half their working hours investigating repeat cases at a time when the force is facing mounting financial challenges.
Edinburgh has become such a hotspot for teenagers who repeatedly go missing that the Capital featured on a BBC Panorama documentary screened this week to explore the scale of the problem.
Chief Inspector Mark Rennie revealed that the number of reports was “disproportionately high” in the south because it has two hospitals, several residential units for children and a large number of hostels.
Across the Capital around 30 per cent of missing people vanish from youth units and 20 per cent from hospitals.
Ch Insp Rennie, the local area commander for south-east Edinburgh, said: “It is important that all the agencies take this issue very seriously, doing everything they can to reduce the risk to people and the resultant demand on police resources. The demands on the police are significant, especially in south Edinburgh where most of our resources are focused on seeking out missing people. This represents a significant change in local policing from years ago.”
He added: “People tend to think of a missing person as a child or elderly person who is lost, but the vast majority of incidents revolve around lack of contact and other vulnerabilities associated with mental health or risk of exploitation.”
Last year, the Edinburgh Police Division dealt with 4438 reports of missing people and has already seen a further 2300 incidents this year.
This year, the same five children have each been reported missing more than 50 times.
Police Scotland spends between £30m and £80m a year across the country on missing people inquiries.
However, the force insists each case is and will continue to be taken seriously, regardless of how often the person has gone missing before.
Edinburgh Police Division has a missing person coordinator who is tasked with working with the city council, NHS and care facilities to reduce the problem.
Officers from the Public Protection Unit also regularly sit down with the other agencies to discuss key cases involving vulnerable young people.
But Andy McCullough, director of policy and public affairs UK at the charity Railway Children, insisted that missing children were too often victims of a “patchwork response” on a national level.
He said: “Different police forces are using different criteria and categories when they receive reports of missing children and some are falling through the net.
“Children run away or are forced to leave homes where violence, abuse, and neglect have become part of their daily lives. They also run to escape common problems such as bullying, relationship issues, loneliness and family breakdown.
“This isn’t just an issue for the police. It’s for local authorities, communities and individuals to remain alert to the dangers children face when they go missing.
“There’s strong leadership from within the police, so it’s now about making sure examples of excellent practice are put in place swiftly and effectively nationwide.”