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Former Lincolnshire Police officer launches app to help missing people at risk of suicide

A former police officer says a new app he has created will help find missing people at risk of suicide more quickly.

Paul Cooper, 39, has created the app Misper – named after the shortform term police officers use when discussing a missing person - to help find people who have gone missing due to mental health issues.

“In my years in the police, I saw firsthand the challenges and complexities involved in finding missing people, particularly those with mental health issues,” said Paul, who lived in Market Deeping during his time at Lincolnshire Police.

Paul Cooper. Photo: Paul Highmoor
Paul Cooper. Photo: Paul Highmoor

“With Misper, I wanted to create a tool that could make a real difference in these critical situations.”

Paul, who worked for both Lincolnshire Police in Spalding and Cleveland Police, is behind the award-winning app Pocket Sergeant, which provides information to help police officers do their job.

Driven by both personal and professional reasons, the 39-year-old has spent the past two years working on the new Misper app ready for its launch.

Screenshots from the new Misper app
Screenshots from the new Misper app

Having lost several friends to suicide and known a number of relatives of friends who have gone missing, Paul also has personal experience of the trauma families and friends go through when people go missing or die by suicide.

On one occasion he found himself on the doorstep of a friend whose brother was suicidal who Paul took to hospital for a mental health assessment. The man was released and detained again by the police for another mental health assessment before being allowed to return home. He later took his own life.

“I still think about what I could have done differently to help and whether any other options were available that may have prevented his death,” Paul, who now lives in Stockton, Teesside, said.

“It made it worse the fact I was friends with his brother.

Screenshots from the new Misper app
Screenshots from the new Misper app

“It’s difficult to put into words what drove me to build the Misper app other than the guilt and sadness I felt having dealt with people who later went on to take their own lives.

“Whilst the Misper app won’t bring back anyone we’ve lost to suicide, it could save someone who is struggling today.”

The Misper app is a culmination of Paul’s eight-and-a-half year police career and experience in handling cases of missing people at risk due to their mental health conditions. The app is built upon publicly available research that correlates certain factors such as gender, age and mental health conditions with the likelihood of where the missing person may be found.

“The data we have is powerful,” said Paul.

Screenshots from the new Misper app
Screenshots from the new Misper app

“It shows clear patterns, for example, suicidal females are often found closer to home than males, and different self-harm methods are preferred by each gender.”

The app addresses critical gaps in the current approach to searching for missing people within the police service. Paul observed that while police officers respond quickly to missing person reports, the initial search efforts often lack coordination and don’t leverage existing research.

“It’s not just about searching more; it’s about searching smarter,” he added.

Misper integrates this research into a user-friendly mobile application, using a traffic light system (green, amber, red) to indicate the likelihood of where a missing person suffering from specific mental health conditions might be located.

“The system is designed to guide search efforts more effectively, when there’s no suspicion of third-party involvement.”

The app, which is free to download on Google Play and the App Store, has several innovative features to enhance the search for a missing person/people:

* Photo upload and description: Users can upload a photograph and provide a full description of the missing person, making critical information readily accessible.

* Search checklists and radius mapping: It offers checklists of specific places to search within a given radius, aiding users in conducting organised and thorough searches.

* Search party coordination: The search administrator can add up to nine other people to the search map, allowing each member to see where others are and which areas have been searched, enhancing coordination and efficiency.

* Verified sightings integration: The app allows for the addition of verified sightings of the missing person, which are then added to the map, providing real-time updates to the search teams.

“I’ve dedicated several years to developing this project,” said Paul.

“During this period, I’ve witnessed a significant increase in missing person appeals filling my social media feeds. Social media platforms have seen a surge in groups dedicated to sharing appeals, creating posters, and organising physical searches for missing individuals.

“More and more people are getting involved, eager to help. However, many of these volunteers lack the necessary knowledge and training for conducting effective searches. This is where the Misper app comes in – it’s designed to help the public better coordinate their efforts in searching for missing people.”

According to the charity, Missing People (www.missingpeople.org.uk), which uses statistics from the National Crime Agency Report 2021-22:

* Someone is reported missing every 90 seconds in the UK.

* Almost 170,000 people are reported missing every year (97,000 adults and nearly 70,000 children)

* There are 320,000 reported missing incidents each year (more than 140,000 incidents of adults and almost 90,000 children). [The number of incidents is the total number of reports of someone going missing including missing incidents and number of individuals does not reflect repeat missing]

* Of the missing adults, up to 8 in 10 have diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issues, 3 in 10 have a relationship breakdown, 4 in 10 have dementia, 1 in 50 have financial problems and 1 in 50 were escaping violence.

Samaritans offer FREE round the clock, confidential support to anyone that wants to talk through their problems, which could include relationship and family problems, bereavement, financial worries, job-related stress or college and study-related stress.

Call Samaritans on 116 123, calls are free from any phone, or visit www.samaritans.org.

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