Filing a police report is often the first step when somebody’s loved one goes missing. Community organizations like Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, pictured here, can offer other resources. (Photo: Sebastián Hidalgo)

Chicago police cannot deny or delay a missing person report under any circumstances.

By Trina Reynolds-Tyler, Invisible Institute, and Sarah Conway, City Bureau
November 14, 2023

It is your right to report someone missing in Chicago. Simply put, a Chicago Police Department officer cannot deny or delay a missing person report under any circumstances. 

City Bureau and the Invisible Institute are here to help — we bring you this guide as a resource to navigate the process of filing a missing person report.

How do I report someone missing?
Go to the nearest Chicago Police Station in person and ask to file a missing persons report. Once a police officer takes your report, request that a police car come to the place where the missing was last seen to gather evidence. While you can call 911 to report someone missing, you may be directed to go to a police station to file the report in person.

Who can file a missing person report?
Anyone can file a missing person report for someone, regardless of how you know them. You do not have to be related, or be the caregiver, to the person in order to report them as missing.

When can I file a missing person report?
In Illinois, it’s against state law for any law enforcement official to refuse an in-person missing person report on any grounds, regardless of the missing person’s age, affiliation, lifestyle or amount of time missing. See the Missing Persons Identification Act.

Chicago police officers cannot ask you to wait any amount of time to file a missing person report or deny a missing person report for any reason, even if they suspect the person is voluntarily missing. See the Chicago police policy Missing/Found Person Special Order.

Both state law and police department policy prevent an officer from asking you to wait any amount of time — say, 24 or 48 hours — before filing a missing person report.

If the missing person is under 21 years old, how should police treat the case?
According to state law, a “missing child” is any person under 21 whose whereabouts are unknown to their parent or guardian. Illinois state law requires a more immediate response from law enforcement as well as additional requirements around raising awareness on the cases of missing children.

Simply put, a Chicago Police Department officer cannot deny or delay a missing person report under any circumstances.

What should I do if a Chicago police officer tells me to wait or refuses to let me file a missing person report for any reason?
Consider using this language: “State law and Chicago police policy require you to accept this report without delay. You are legally not allowed to ask me to wait before filing a report.”

What do I do if officers still refuse to take my missing person report?
First, you may want to return to the police station with a loved one as a witness to ask officers again to take the report.

While there, you will want to document everything: Take photos, write down the officer’s name and badge number, and keep detailed notes so you can use this as evidence to file an official complaint against the officer.

How do I file a complaint against a Chicago police officer for not taking my missing persons report or asking me to wait?
If an officer is not taking you seriously or denying taking a report, you can file a complaint with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, known as COPA. Make sure to describe your encounter with officers, like when you interacted and what they said to you. If you feel you are being discriminated against based on your race, gender, identity or any other reason, tell the investigator you believe this is “bias-based verbal abuse.” Be helpful to the investigators, who may need to contact you later with more questions. COPA investigators are not police officers.

Follow these steps:

  1. We recommend filing your complaint online. Go to the COPA website. If you believe you were discriminated against in the process of filing a missing person report, write that your complaint is about “bias-based verbal abuse.”
  2. You’ll want to make sure you have gathered the following information:
    1. Which police station you visited and address
    2. Name, race, age, any known disability of the missing person
    3. How long the person has been missing
    4. Officers’ names and badge numbers
    5. Write down word-for-word (or as closely as you can remember) what officers told you
  3. Here is some sample language for the complaint:
    1. “I went to the (insert police station and address) to report someone I know missing. Chicago police officers told me that I couldn’t report them missing and/or they asked me to wait to report the person missing. The missing person is (insert race), (insert age), (insert disability). They have been missing for (number of) days. This refusal is against state law and police directives.”

What else can I do if the police are not taking my case seriously?
Complaints can take time. While you wait for investigators to reach out to you, press forward on filing your missing person case, whether through reaching out to elected officials, such as your alderperson, attending your local CAPS meeting or finding support from local and national groups specializing in missing persons advocacy.

Should I request that the missing person be classified as “high-risk” missing?
Police prioritize “high-risk” missing person cases, meaning they act more urgently. Under Illinois state law, officers can immediately characterize a missing person case as “high-risk” and enter the case into police databases, known as LEADS and NCIC, when someone is missing:

  • As a result of stranger abduction or suspicious, unknown or dangerous circumstances
  • For more than 30 days
  • Who needs medical attention or prescription medication
  • Who has no previous pattern of running away or disappearing
  • Because of a possible abduction by a non-custodial parent
  • With a mental impairment
  • Who is under the age of 21
  • Has been subjected to threats or violence
  • From a nursing home
  • With veteran status or on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces or National Guard