Recently, I was watching an episode of “Psych” on Netflix, when once again one of my pet peeves with Hollywood crept into a scene. (‘hollywood’ in the generic sense, as in movie/tv production, no matter where from. Psych is actually produced in Canada. That’s why it rains so much it their Santa Barbara!)
It’s not the alleged ‘psychic’ powers of the Sean character. It’s not the undercurrent of underplayed (but still there) homophobia of the two main characters (especially Gus’ ongoing fear of touching another man) that often is used to make a comedic point.
It’s this ridiculous, on-going, ever-present, see-it-in-every-show-that-has-the-plot-line, it’s-standard-fare-in-”Hollywood”-productions, story device.
You do NOT have to wait 24 hours to report a person missing!
Most of these shows are produced in California, and as an emergency dispatcher with both California P.O.S.T. and D.O.J. training and certification* (yes, that means I’m certifiable!), I can assure them there is NO such requirement! Zip! Nada! Not a law! (In fact, a juvenile reported missing HAS to be entered into the Missing and Unidentified Person computer system, accessible by every law enforcement agency in the country, within 4 hours of the initial report)
Television programs and movies have for a long time perpetuated this myth that the police won’t take a report until someone has been missing for 24 hours. That’s just not true, at least in California. It’s especially not true for anyone under the age of 18. If you wish to report a person missing, you can do so at any time. The officer responding to your call may try to talk you out of it, or talk you into waiting, but that’s not because enough time has yet to elapse to permit a report to be filed. Either the officer doesn’t believe there’s anything untoward involved (adults have the right to leave anytime they like, after all!), or they are trying to avoid writing a report (that does happen, sad to say, but they do often get swamped with paperwork. It’s human nature to try and reduce that workload).
A lot of the reports we take are for people who have simply decided to leave an unpleasant situation. Whether it’s a failed relationship, or just wonderlust, sometimes people just want to go. You can still report them missing, but once law enforcement runs across them, if they seem to be just fine, the only thing that will happen is a note made in the computer entry, indicating they were located, were fine, and sent on their way. The reporting party will be informed of the contact, but that’s the end of it. (sorry, background info digression)
So, Hollywood! (and whatever name is being used for Canadian productions) Please drop the whole “you have to wait 24 hours to report them missing” thing! It’s not the law in California, and I doubt it’s the law anyplace else in the USA. It won’t change your plot to have the report taken right off the bat, and it will reflect reality to the public, many of whom believe the “Hollywood conventional wisdom” of this myth. I’ve taken many calls from people who wanted to ask about reporting a missing person “even though they haven’t been missing for 24 hours”. I have to reassure them they can report a missing person as soon as they become aware, or suspect, something is not right.
There’s your assignment for this week, scriptwriters. Go through all your screenplays, and red-line the 24-hour thing! Thanks from every dispatcher in the country!