Tele: NSW Police to employ text messaging to help locate missing people

The same technology used for bushfire and flood warnings will be adopted to help track missing people, with text messages and photos sent to all mobile phones in the area where a high-risk person was last seen, minutes after the case is reported.

The geographical targeting will now allow police to send SMS messages to phones in a specific area, which can range from as small as a 1.5km radius in the Sydney CBD through to a radius of 20km in country areas.

“This will save lives without doubt,” said NSW Police Minister Mr David Elliot.

“It effectively means anyone with a mobile phone is being recruited by NSW police to help them.”

Until now, mobile phone messages have only been used by emergency services in the cases of bushfire or flood warnings.

“When this tool is used, a brief message can be sent out to all mobile devices within a defined area,” said State Crime Commander Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith.

“The message will include a brief description, and where possible a photograph of the missing person, as well as details of how to report a sighting.

“This system is currently used by states and territories to send out alerts within specific areas in the event of likely emergency situations, such as flood, bushfire or other extreme weather conditions.”

The new head of the revamped Missing Persons Registry, Detective Inspector Glen Browne, said high-risk missing people include those with dementia who wander from home, children with developmental delays who are separated from family and young children who go missing in large crowds.

“In each of these situations, serious concerns are held for a person’s safety if they are not located quickly — making the SMS tool invaluable to first-responders,” Det Insp Browne said.

The technology could have been effective in the search for missing woman Nicole De Souza, 27, who was last seen leaving a home on Houston Road, Kensington, last Sunday morning.

Under Det Insp Browne, who was one of the state’s top homicide investigators, the Registry now treats a person missing for more than 24 hours as a potential murder, with spectacular results.

The long-term missing person numbers, defined as someone missing for more than 90 days, fell to 18 cases last year, down from an average of 147 per year between 2015 and 2019.

“It is our hope, that with the introduction of the new geo-targeting tool, that we are able to reduce this number even further,” Asst Comm Smith said.

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