What's up with all of the missing persons cases in York County?

Anthony Maenza
York Dispatch

There has been an uptick recently in the number of missing persons being highlighted by York County police departments on their websites and social media accounts. 

But that’s not because more people are going missing in the county; it’s because the departments have found the internet to be an effective tool in quickly finding those who have. 

“We have seen that the posts have been successful, so we have focused on getting this information out to the public in hopes that we can locate the missing person/juvenile in a timely manner,” York City Police Capt. Daniel Lentz said. 

Newly sworn in Capt. Daniel Lentz speaks during York City Police DepartmentÕs promotion ceremony at City Hall, Monday, Aug. 1, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert/The York Dispatch

It helped York City Police quickly locate a 13-year-old who went missing on last week. The department has posted seven missing people in the past month, and the majority of them have been found safe. 

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Other police departments in the area have used the web as a means of not only finding missing persons but also to help identify suspects for certain offenses. 

West York Borough Police Chief Matthew Millsaps uses it on a case-by-case basis when it comes to those who are missing. 

“It’s very complicated, and we have to weigh a lot of things out,” Millsaps said.  

For example, if the department has someone with dementia or mental disorders that has wandered off, Millsaps said, there is an urgency to put it on social media platforms because they may be in danger. 

West York Public Safety Chief Matt Millsaps retrieves a cat taken from a house on Monroe St. in the borough after a fire occurred there Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

“We recognize the (immediacy) of the threat that exists (for them),” Millsaps said. “We also recognize there are people that follow social media that are follower groups in the West York area primarily, so they may be able in real time see the individual and make a report.” 

If there were a suspected abduction of a child, Millsaps said his department would cast a wider net, using Amber Alerts as well as social media platforms. 

Posting someone who may have run away, Millsaps said, gets a little more complicated. In those cases, they have a special juvenile officer who handles those calls. 

“Obviously, they are running away from something, and you're trying to identify the causes of what’s making them run away,” Millsaps said. 

In those cases, the juvenile officer looks for resources that could help that runaway and help get them back into the home. 

If all resources have been exhausted in finding those runaways, Millsaps said then they will post it on social media. In those cases, he said it is very effective in retrieving them because it is very likely someone they know will see it and tell where they may be hiding. 

After those juveniles are found, Millsaps said his department will pull down those posts after they have been up for 24 hours so the juveniles don’t have a constant reminder up months later with commentary from other people. 

“We use social media as a tool,” Millsaps said, “but it’s not the end-all, be-all tool. There are certain cases where we recognize it could cause long-term harm than good posting it.” 

Many departments use Crimewatch as a means of sharing information about missing people as well as suspects. 

West Manchester Township Police Chief John Snyder said it is a great and simple tool to use. 

“It has been very effective in helping us identify suspects,” Snyder said.  “It (also) sends information across several social media platforms.”