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Prince William County police have established a new unit devoted to prioritizing and bringing resources to missing person cases.

The Missing Persons Unit will formally fall under the Criminal Investigations Division. A sworn supervisor, two full-time detectives and a civilian specialist make up the unit.

The police department says creating the unit was the result of an internal review of policies and procedures compared with those models recommended by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

The department also consulted with three Virginia police departments to conduct a peer review of current policies and assist with the development of new practices.

While the policies and practices of the Prince William County Police Department were found to be similar to those of the peer departments, the division is revising internal general orders and standard operating procedures, police said in a news release.

The unit is also creating checklists to aid in the investigation to ensure the appropriate steps are being taken. A Child Abduction Response Plan was recommended and created to be readily available with other incident response plans maintained by the department.

A review of current and proposed revisions to internal policies pertaining to missing children was conducted by case management and training staff at NCMEC.

"This was completed as the department continues to seek ways to improve investigative techniques and will continue to look for additional feedback to ensure best practices are followed," the news release said.

“When a loved one is reported missing in Prince William County, it is imperative that we as the Police Department do all we can to locate that individual and reunite them with their families,” said police Chief Barry M. Barnard. “The creation of this new unit will allow cases to be consolidated, reviewed, and tracked in a more efficient manner so we can allocate the necessary resources need to bring that person home safely.”

During these investigations, the department reviews the information provided by the family, friend or loved one to make an informed decision regarding the type, duration, and extent of resources to commit to the investigation. This discretion is guided by policies and procedures, national and state definitions, regulations from criminal justice information services, and the perceived risk of harm to the individual.

The Missing Persons Unit will have the investigative responsibility of all missing adult and juvenile cases, regardless of the involuntary, voluntary or endangered status of the individual.

Additional units, such as the School Resource Unit will continue to have a role in cases involving voluntary missing juveniles. The Missing Persons Unit will track all cases and ensure appropriate resources and investigative processes are followed in order to locate the individual as quickly as possible. Missing endangered cases will continue to be investigated with the highest urgency.

The unit is expected to grow over time and will include enhanced services such as a website, which will list additional information on missing persons in the County so community members can stay informed and potentially assist in locating or providing information on the whereabouts of an individual.

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