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Under Our Nose: The Use of GIS Technology and Case Notes to Focus Search Efforts

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Missing person searches can entail much time, effort, and resources. With scientific data and techniques increasingly available to law enforcement and investigations units, can these tools be used to predict likely areas where persons or remains may be discovered, especially in cases where little to no information about the disappearance is available? A retrospective study of seventy‐three (73) cases was conducted in Onondaga County, New York, U.S.A., in order to explore this question. Quantitative (geospatial) and qualitative (investigator notes) data were utilized to determine whether patterns exist that may assist in investigations of recent and “cold” missing person cases. Results showed a majority of cases with relative proximity (<5 miles) between victim last seen (VLS) and body recovered (BR) locations. Furthermore, investigators’ notes demonstrated repeated descriptors reflecting natural or cultural features associated with hidden, clandestine provenance (e.g., near bodies of water, wooded areas). With future external validation of this study, consistent priority areas may be identified as foci of searches; these priority areas ideally should be thoroughly checked/cleared before the search zone is expanded.
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Keywords: forensic science; geographic information systems; missing persons; search and recovery methods

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2017

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