Out of nearly 22,000 cases in the last year, the force said more than half (54%) involved individuals who had gone missing multiple times, with one person the focus of more than 170 separate investigations over the 12 month period.
The force, which said the problem is “illustrative of the non-crime related demand” on its resources, stressed it alone cannot prevent people from going missing, and urged its partners and communities to help address the issue.
A leading missing person’s charity told The Scotsman that liaising with missing people after they were safely located was key to curbing the problem.
It pointed that providing return interviews for individuals, which can identify underlying issues and prevent future missing episodes, is not a statutory requirement in Scotland, unlike in England and Wales.
The stark statistics showing the scale of the police’s work were outlined this morning at the third International Conference on Missing Children and Adults, held at Abertay University in Dundee.
Speaking at the event, Assistant Chief Constable Andy Cowie revealed there had been 21,817 individual investigations in the 12 months since April 2016.
He told the conference: “People go missing for a broad range of reasons and usually voluntarily. But we also know that the majority of people who go missing are vulnerable.
“What our data tells us is that we need to do more, working with partners, to understand why people go missing, to prevent people going missing and to protect the most vulnerable people in our communities.”
The newly compiled statistics show that out of those people reported missing in the past year, 58% were male, and 53% were aged 13 to 16.
While more than three quarters (76%) of those people reported missing returned within 24 hours, one per cent have yet to be traced.
A total of 78 out of the 87 people traced deceased in 2016/17 were adult males, most of whom had not been missing before.
Only last month, the Scottish Government published its National Missing Persons Framework, a non-statutory strategy designed to better prevent, protect, and respond to those people who go missing.
It proposes preventative steps such as ensuring young people ensure early third party mediation, and taking practical measures to stop elderly people with dementia leaving care home settings.
Annabelle Ewing, the minister for community safety, hailed the framework as “a major step forward in our efforts to protect some of Scotland’s most vulnerable individuals.”
However, in her foreword to the document, Ms Ewing states that police receive “over 30,000 calls reporting people missing” every year, around 10,000 less than the figure disclosed by Police Scotland yesterday.
The framework’s best practice recommendations including providing ‘return interviews’ for people who have been located.
Missing People, a charity which runs a free confidential telephone helpline as well undertaking detailed policy and campaign work, believes the issue is a vital one.
Susannah Drury, the charity’s director of services and advocacy, said: “Return home interviews and follow on support are an opportunity to find out why people left, what happened while they were away, and what help they need to stop it happening again.
“It’s absolutely vital to make that happen, as it can identify any number of issues - health or financial problems, or exploitation in the case of children. We know that specialist support works, it’s a crucial tool which has a huge impact and the cost is less than that of a police investigation.”
She added: “We understand the framework is never going to be a statutory document - we would love there to be statutory guidance - but that means we have to approach it differently to make it work. We’re very excited about the commitment the Scottish Government and Police Scotland have shown to it. We need to work with the current situation.”