Tracing Runaway Individuals

Throughout history, runaways have persisted as a formidable presence on society’s landscape. These youths typically lack social, emotional or economic support systems. This often leads to exploitation and victimization upon their return home (Zide and Cherry 1992).


Tracing runaway individuals is a difficult task and sometimes can take months to resolve. A few basic tools can help: cellular telephone tracking, checking local hangouts, friends houses and national data bases.

Cellular Telephone Records

Cellular telephone records can be a powerful tool for law enforcement when tracing runaway individuals. These records show the phone number, duration and location of a call. They can also provide information about text messages sent from a mobile device, except for encrypted texts such as iMessages or WhatsApp. The information is obtained by identifying the local cellular base station that served each call or data transfer. The cellular phone company typically keeps these records for a limited time, so it is important to subpoena them while they are still available.

Law enforcement agencies sometimes obtain the entire list of cell phones that used a particular tower during a certain time period, known as a “tower dump.” This method of tracking is commonly referred to as Stingray tracking devices and may require a warrant.

The JCSO is often asked to track the locations of missing minors and elderly people with Alzheimer’s who have gone astray. In many cases, the missing individual has not committed a crime and therefore does not have an active warrant. However, time is of the essence and a fast and accurate trace can help to locate the subject quickly.

Computer History

Depending on the situation, runaway children, teens and young adults may have access to computers or social media. A lot of information can be gleaned from these devices. Runaways also tend to have friends and acquaintances that will “let slip” valuable information in an effort to keep them safe or to prevent them from being caught by police.

Attempting to track down a missing child on your own is likely to be very difficult, especially if the person has been gone for a long time. If you have a missing child or know someone who has, contact a private investigator who specializes in missing persons investigations.

In 1848, Ada Lovelace, an English mathematician and the daughter of poet Lord Byron, wrote the world’s first computer program, essentially providing a step-by-step description for using Babbage’s analytical engine. Vannevar Bush introduced the Differential Analyzer in 1930, and Howard Aiken developed the Mark I computer in 1944. These electromechanical devices were used to decipher Nazi codes during World War II. A number of other inventors and scientists contributed to the development of modern computing technology.

Long Distance Telephone Log

A runaway may call home to reassure their family that they are safe, and they often do not want law enforcement or search efforts involved. They might also call and demand ransom money. When a loved one receives a phone call from a missing runaway or a person demanding ransom, it is imperative to immediately dial *57. Dialing *57 will connect you to an automated system that will provide information about the individual’s location based on a call trace that was placed by the alleged runaway.

The operator will provide the force authorization code (it is an 11 digit number unique to an assigned extension) that must be provided when using this feature. This information can then be used to track the individual’s long distance telephone usage. The originating call number, date and time of the tracing are also given to the user. This data can be used to help in the apprehension of the individual.

School Attendance

School attendance is an important metric for learning institutions. Students who miss too much school are at risk of dropping out, and excessive absences can make it difficult for teachers to cover course material and keep up with student progress. This can also negatively impact standardized test scores, since missing class takes away from valuable classroom time.

A runaway’s school attendance records can be a powerful tool to trace them. They can be obtained from the schools that they have attended, as well as their employers if the runaway is working. This will help to determine what their work history is, and if they have any unexcused absences.

When Cynthia Rice of New Jersey’s Advocates for Children began tracking absenteeism rates in her state, she ran into a few challenges with the definitions used by districts. Many were still using average daily attendance data, which is more focused on just showing up for classes than on chronic absences. As a result, her advocacy led to a state law requiring districts to report chronic absenteeism and setting a definition that includes showing up half the day or more.

Home Security

Many home security systems that are professionally monitored have features such as door and motion sensors, and a loud siren that alerts neighbors when someone comes or goes. These systems also work with smart home integration, so they can be controlled through voice commands. Some systems also offer cameras that can be accessed from anywhere via smartphones.

Runaway cases often involve juveniles who leave their homes or care facilities without parental consent, sometimes in violation of custody or visitation agreements. They may be motivated by various factors, such as peer pressure, family problems or substance abuse.

The first step in tracing a runaway is to document all the places where your child hangs out with friends and associates, including their addresses and phone numbers. Then, find out how they are getting around. This might be done by checking long distance telephone records, asking their school for attendance history and getting a list of their employers or potential employers from their cellular phone provider. In addition, look for e-mail to friends and messages about running away on your child’s computer.