Tracing Runaway Individuals

Most runaways live at friends and family member’s homes in relative safety. However, some do not and live on the streets or in an unsafe living situation.


Many parents struggle with guilt and remorse when their child runs away. Others become extremely angry and plan to punish the child.

Tracking Devices

Tracking devices can help caregivers keep an eye on children and elderly parents who may be prone to wandering. They can also help keep track of pets who may stray off the leash. While they are an important tool in preventing a loved one from disappearing, technology should be used as a last resort. Instead, focus on preventive measures like proper care and supervision.

There are a variety of tracking device options available, including GPS, RF, and network-independent trackers. Some are self-installed, meaning they don’t require a professional installation engineer to plug in and start working. Other options are mobile, which can be plugged in and moved between vehicles as needed.

Some trackers are designed to be worn on the person’s body, such as a pendant or wristband. Others are small enough to be attached to a pocket or clothing item, such as a wallet. Some of these devices are waterproof and have a button that can be pressed when the person needs assistance, or to notify caregivers where they are located.

Some of these devices have other features as well, such as separation alerts that let the caregiver know when a person has left a tagged item behind and can offer help to get it back or even tap into a wider network of people’s smartphones to see whether the missing object is nearby and in range. Many of these devices have price points ranging from less than US$100 to over US$1000 (Table S1 in Multimedia Appendix 3).

Cell Phone Tracking

Cell phone tracking is a powerful tool that can be used by police to locate individuals, and it’s one of the most widely-used tracking methods in law enforcement. In fact, a recent study by the ACLU found that the vast majority of US police departments engage in cell phone tracking, and they frequently do so without warrants.

Many people assume that the police cannot track their location using their cellphones because they have privacy rights, but this is not true. Cell phones contain several sensors that can help to track their location, such as an accelerometer, which tracks speed, a magnetometer, which works like a digital compass, and a gyroscope, which tracks rotation. These sensors are activated when the phone’s GPS is turned on, and they can be used to determine where the device is located.

Additionally, many people are not aware that the phone company can also track their location. The phone company can ping the phone and see which antennas are responding, and they can use the distance between each tower to get a rough idea of the location. The accuracy of this method varies depending on the density of the network in a given area, but it can be as accurate as within about 25 miles. Some smartphone apps, such as Fog Reveal, allow police to track cellphones without a warrant by searching billions of records.

Social Media Tracking

Social media tracking is used to identify people who are talking about your business, products or services. The right tool can alert you if mention volumes spike or if sentiment drops to dangerous levels.

The best social media monitoring tools use keyword-density checks, smart pattern-matching algorithms and other systems to ensure that only the highest quality content is gathered. They also eliminate double entries, exclude irrelevant content and provide data visualizations. These tools may be free to use, such as Google Alerts, or available for a subscription fee such as Sprout Social.

One of the first things to do if someone goes missing is to notify police immediately. They will be trained specifically in how to find missing persons and can survey the situation more objectively than you can. They will also have access to resources that you won’t, such as a network of professional investigators.

Another important step is to distribute color photos of the missing person. Post them on your Facebook page, circulate them through local community centers and hang them in public places like schools, restaurants and shopping plazas. These can help authorities find the individual far more quickly than a simple listing of their name and a phone number on a missing person poster. It is also a good idea to cancel any bank accounts and credit cards the runaway might have access to.

Community Policing and Case Tracking (COMPACT)

Community policing and problem-oriented policing (POP) are strategies used by law enforcement agencies to address local crime issues. COP is a broad policing strategy that relies on community partnerships and involvement, while POP provides police with an analytical framework for identifying and addressing crime problems. Both COP and POP can be useful in helping to track runaway individuals.

Many smaller, suburban communities have adopted community policing practices, which vary widely in terms of their scope and intensity. However, most community policing programs have at least three common elements: some level of community involvement and partnership; decentralization, giving more discretion to line-level officers; and problem solving (see “What’s Promising? Review of the Research Evidence”).

Core-Vet is an IT solution developed by WPC to streamline and manage the vetting process. It enables the capture and management of information about missing persons enquiries, supporting the investigation of child protection, domestic abuse and vulnerable adult cases.