Sunday, April 14, 2013

DO MISSING PERSONS POSTERS HELP?

     When a person goes missing, family and law enforcement try to get the word out early and widely disseminated.  We've all seen the letter sized posters on the window of the local grocery store or convenience store.  When Jack Gordon disappeared in a remote area of southern Colorado the family relied largely on posters and word of mouth in the small community because there is no local television station. 


     But do posters placed in prominent public sites near the site of the person's disappearance really help? Here is an interesting experiment carried out by Sade Malloy a Fox TV News reporter in Colorado Springs.

     I put together my own experiment with a mock missing poster and placed our missing child right in front of it.

     I covered the front doors of a local big box retailer with our mock posters. They had bold letters that read "missing," a picture of our missing child, T.J. Helton, and a detailed description of his last known whereabouts.
     One by one people walked by the posters, some taking a moment to analyze them, others just breezed by.
     Forty minutes went by before one person, Chris Adams, realized our missing child was next to him.

     There are many possible explanations for this phenomenon.  The seeming frequency of missing persons alerts may have resulted in a sort of numbness in the population.  If you aren't aware of the fact that someone has recently gone missing it is probably easy to walk right by a poster without it registering in you conscious mind. I think if you recognize the face, it might draw your attention if only briefly.  There may be only a small subset of the general population that notices such posters.  Then again, it only takes one.

     I think there may be more benefit to actually talking to the store owners or clerks in the locations where you are placing your posters, because they are in a position to see a lot of people coming and going.  Putting your missing persons face in the local sheriff's office may also trigger subconscious awareness in the law enforcement officers who are actually out on the roads encountering folks. I always did wonder, though, whether those posters ever helped. 

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