From BuffaloNews.com - Niagara County procedures in place for missing seniors:

The sheriff said the department doesn’t wait the usual 24 hours in a missing-persons case when the person being sought is under age 16 or an Alzheimer’s patient.

But eHow - How to Do a Nationwide Search For a Person says:

Some people claim you need to wait 24 hours before filing a missing person report with the police, but this is a myth.

My Question(s):

  • Do you have to wait 24 hours before you can file a missing person report?
  • (Does it depend on the missing person's age?)
  • 4
    I always thought the idea of having to wait 24 hours was counter-intuitive when they always say the first 24-48 hours are the most crucial to finding someone.
    – Ryathal
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 15:44
  • 4
    You can make a report of literally anything. That does not mean that anyone will take any action.
    – Chad
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 16:48
  • 6
    This would differ so much by state and perhaps even county, I don't think a general answer would be useful here. Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 17:00
  • 7
    This sounds to me like a legal question, and the answer undoubtedly varies by location.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 19:08
  • 2
    The way I heard it was that certain local departments may choose not to investigate missing person cases until at least 24 hours after a disappearance, unless there were special circumstances
    – Casebash
    Commented Jun 13, 2012 at 11:44

2 Answers 2


At least for the Seattle Police Department, the answer is no:


If the individual is a vulnerable person, such as a child, developmentally disabled or elderly person, call 9-1-1.

If there are suspicious circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the individual, call 9-1-1.

For other cases, call the SPD non-emergency number at (206) 625-5011

Or in Los Angeles:

You may initiate a Missing Persons Report of any adult or juvenile by contacting your local law enforcement agency. Contrary to popular belief, law enforcement agencies in California do not require a person to wait a specific period of time before reporting a missing person.

Or in New York:

How long do I have to wait before I report someone missing?
No set amount of time must elapse before you may report someone missing. Use common sense and specific circumstances. In certain cases - if the missing individual is a child, a senior citizen, senile, mentally or physically impaired - an immediate search will be conducted.


For missing children there is the National Child Search Assistance Act of 1990:

National Child Search Assistance Act of 1990 - Requires each Federal, State, and local law enforcement agency to report each case of a missing child under age 18 to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) of the Department of Justice.

Requires States reporting under this Act to: (1) ensure that no State law enforcement agency establishes a policy which requires a waiting period before accepting a missing child or unidentified person report; ...


There is also Suzanne's Law:

"Suzanne's Law" amends Section 3701 (a) of the Crime Control Act of 1990 so that there is no waiting period before a law enforcement agency initiates an investigation of a missing person under the age of twenty one and reports the missing person to the NCIC of the Department of Justice.

This law was signed by President Bush as part of the national Amber Alert bill on April 30, 2003, requires police to initiate prompt investigation into missing young people.


What about missing adults?

From the Arkansas Crime Information Center:

There is no waiting period before a person can be entered into the NCIC Missing Person File.
Arkansas law requires all missing persons to be entered immediately.

From the Wyoming Attorney General's Office:

NCIC does not require a waiting period for the entry of a person into the NCIC Missing Person File.

Of course, just because a waiting period is not required doesn't necessarily mean that one can't be imposed. But I haven't yet found a state that does so.


From the Washington State Attorney General's Office:

You may have seen on television or heard that you must wait 24 or even 72 hours to report someone missing. This is not true. There is no required waiting period.

From the State of California Departement of Justice:

There is NO waiting period for reporting a person missing.

All California police and sheriffs' departments must accept any report, including a report by telephone, of a missing person, including runaways, without delay and will give priority to the handling of the report.

From The Texas Departement of Public Safety:

Under Texas law there is no waiting period before a record of a missing person can be filed.

From the Departement of Maryland State Police:

§ 3-601. Procedure for taking missing person reports:

(a) Mandatory waiting period prohibited.

(1) A law enforcement agency may not establish a mandatory waiting period before taking a missing person report.

From The State of Connecticut:

It is an incorrect assumption that 24 hours, or any other time frame, must pass before a law enforcement unit will accept a missing person report.

There is NO waiting period for reporting a missing person.

From the Utah Departement of Public Safety:


It is mandatory with many federal laws that the report be taken immediatley and entered into NCIC within 2 hours for missing persons under the age of 21. (Protect Act, Suzanne's Law, and the Crime Control Act of 1990)


  • For people under the age of 21 a waiting period is explicitly forbidden.

  • And in general, there doesn't seem to be a law that demands a waiting period. On the contrary, there is no waiting period for entry into the NCIC (and several states explicitly emphasize that there is no waiting period).

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