TALLINN – Police in Estonia search for a dozen people every day, who mostly disappear due to troubled relationships, mental health problems and alcohol abuse.
Fortunately, most of the missing people are quickly found alive and well.
"Even though people's awareness has increased year by year and they know how to prevent disappearances and getting lost better than before, the police still receives about a dozen reports of disappearances every day. Three factors account for the majority of disappearances: troubled relationships, mental health problems and alcohol abuse," police major Ottomar Virk said.
He noted that the police solve most of the cases in a few hours by checking possible locations, also by showing a lost person the way with a siren and flares or, for example, searching for traces on the terrain with a search dog.
"However, larger search operations on the terrain can last for weeks, months or even years. In such cases, practically the entire police technical fleet is involved, from vehicles to aircraft, in addition to hundreds of people who work outdoors on the terrain or gather additional helpful information in police buildings," the police major said.
More than half of the cases of disappearances are related to minors who run away from home or school and in most cases have such a risky and self-destructive lifestyle that they may end up in danger when venturing out on their own.
"For example, there is a 10-year-old boy in a foster home who the police searched for almost half a hundred times last year, or figuratively speaking, once a week. The little boy's desire to leave his temporary home is largely related to a difficult childhood, lack of adequate attention and care. However, there are hundreds of other children with a similar fate in Estonia, who run away from home often and who are searched for by the police on a daily basis," Virk said.
However, if the missing person's pattern of behavior is different from usual and the loved one has the feeling that the person may be in danger, it must be reported to the police immediately.
"Every hour that passes is only to the detriment of the possible person in need of help. At this point, attentive people have been a great help to the police, who report to the emergency number if they notice an elderly person walking aimlessly, a person with mental health problems, or someone who has hurt themselves with mind-altering substances. When investigating the matter, it sometimes turns out that the family has not even noticed the disappearance of the loved one in need of help," Virk said.
Should it happen that for some reason you lose your destination while walking in nature and you cannot get home on your own, the police encourage those in trouble to dial 112 and call for help.
"In the case of frosty temperatures, we sometimes get reports that someone's strength has run out due to overconsumption of mind-altering substances on their way home from a party and there's no one around to ask for help. For example, the mushroom pickers that get lost in the fall have also realized that it is not wise to wait for nightfall until the police are called to help," Virk said.
There are also cases where a person wants to be away without their loved ones knowing anything about them.
"In police work, there are cases where a seemingly small family quarrel leads to one party going outside as if to cool down. When they are not back by the next day and the police start investigating, the person is found traveling in another European country or resting under a palm tree even further away," Virk said.
"It is good to know that everything is fine with the person, but if someone wants to be away from the family for a while like this, they should still inform someone close to them about it. If a search is already underway and the person does not want to tell their family their location, they should still report themselves to the police. That way we can send our forces to those who really need help," the police major said.
Over the past five years, the number of reports of disappearances received by the police has gradually decreased. While in 2018 the police received more than 4,700 reports of disappearances, then last year there were about a thousand fewer such reports, meaning 3,729 lost or missing people needed the help of the police.