How long does a person need to be missing before police are obligated to look for them?

Updated April 17, 2017

If a loved one goes missing or disappears, you can file a missing person's report at your local police department. There are certain situations that do not warrant filing a missing person's report, such as in the case of adults with substance abuse problems.

The Myth

The commonly believed myth is that a person needs to be missing for 48 hours before you can file a missing person's report; this is simply untrue. There is no minimum period of time, rather the conditions of the disappearance determine how quickly the search begins.


While there is no minimum time period, missing adults fall under the category of needing specific circumstances for you to file a report. For example, adults or elderly persons with a medical condition or mental disability, or that may be a danger to themselves or others, fall into this category.


If a child goes missing, you can file an immediate AMBER Alert instead of a missing person's report, as soon as law enforcement officers confirm the child has been abducted. AMBER alerts work through a partnership between media and law enforcement, instantly broadcasting a child's disappearance on national TV and electronic freeway signs where they are available.

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About the Author

Sophie Southern has been a freelance writer since 2004. Her writing has been featured in "JPG" magazine and on Southern holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography from the School of Visual Arts.