Finding missing people — especially children — is a difficult enough task on its own, but according to the Winnipeg police officer who heads up those searches, the COVID-19 pandemic has added a few additional challenges to solving the city’s 7,000 annual missing persons cases.
Insp. Marc Philippot, specialized investigations, told 680 CJOB that school closures have cut off a major information pipeline when it comes to tracking down missing children.
“When we’re out looking for children, to return them home safely, one of the resources we rely on is the schools — be it the teachers, resource officers that are in the schools, school counsellors,” Philippot said.
“Obviously they have a more intimate knowledge of the circle of friends and the hang-arounds and can provide us that information to check on.
“Not having that at play has definitely been difficult for our investigators to work through.”
The school system also comes in handy, he said, when dealing with reports of child abuse. Although Philippot said police haven’t necessarily seen an upswing in abuse cases during the pandemic, he said they’re hearing of more cases anecdotally — and the concern is that teachers, counsellors and even other parents are often the first to report signs of abuse.
Without those reports coming in from concerned third parties, abuse is easier to hide.
Another roadblock: Winnipeggers being nervous about letting police into their homes.
“When we’re trying to locate a missing child, oftentimes we’ll find them in someone else’s home,” said Philippot.
“Especially early with the pandemic, people were a little more reluctant to allow police into their homes — not to be uncooperative, but trying to minimize exposure.”
“Once the pandemic is behind us, and when we’re looking at it through a rearview mirror, we’ll be able to fully dissect what the whole impact of this pandemic was.”
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