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CrimeBeat: How long should you wait to report a missing person?

How long do you have to wait before filing a missing persons report with police?

Don’t wait to call police.

“If there’s any concern at all for the welfare of another human being, there is no waiting period,” said Petaluma Police Lt. Ken Savano, who has been an officer for nearly 22 years.

The notion that people must wait for a certain amount of time to pass before reporting a person missing - like 24 or 48 hours - is a myth. Time is of the essence, Savano said.

Investigators will have better luck tracking a person’s whereabouts in the immediate aftermath of an incident. The more time passes, the farther a person might be from the last location seen and face more exposure to danger or the elements, such as hot or cold weather conditions.

“It’s easy for us to ramp up, increase resources, based on the circumstances, but we can’t make up for time,” Savano said.

By law, police must accept all missing person reports regardless of jurisdiction. Petaluma police will take a missing person’s report related to someone in Los Angeles and “we then contact Los Angeles to help facilitate the case,” Savano said. There were 499 reports of missing people in Sonoma County in 2015, according to the California Attorney General’s Office. Of those, the vast majority of people returned home on their own or were found by law enforcement, 48 percent and 35 percent respectively. Fourteen people were found to have died, 20 cases were listed as “voluntary missing” and six cases were listed as “invalid.” Only one case was listed as “unknown.”

Gather as much information you can when making the call: identifying information like tattoos or jewelry, recent photos, names of friends and associates, and places frequented and the last time seen.

“If nothing is wrong, then no harm, no foul,” Savano said. “But if someone’s safety and welfare is in jeopardy, then time is crucial.”

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