01/12/2013 12:00 EST

Surrey RCMP Missing Persons Unit Never Gives Up


Tracking down missing people isn't often a priority in many police forces, but a special unit at the Surrey RCMP has a near-perfect success rate.

While missing persons cases are an afterthought in some departments, part of a general investigation section or just another duty that a single officer runs off the side of his desk, the Surrey RCMP's Missing Persons Unit has a sergeant-in-charge and two constables tasked with locating people full-time.

The successful unit netted all but four missing people in 2011; solved every reported disappearance in 2010; and all but two in 2009. So how do they do it?

Const. Michael Halskov, one of the unit's investigators, developed a knack for locating people after studying criminology at Victoria's Camosun College and then working as a private investigator for seven years.

"It's a pride thing, you like to be good at something," Halskov tells The Huffington Post B.C. "I like to find people, even people who are difficult to find."

Halskov learned early on that relationships were key to finding people. He built contacts who helped him track down the missing. It's a skill he has taken into the RCMP, where he sometimes has to get information from people who want nothing to do with him.

"People get a sense when you talk to them on the phone, this is a person I think I can trust," Halskov says. "If he says he'll do something he'll do it."

People go missing under tons of different circumstances, Halskov says. They may be senior citizens who have wandered away from home. They may be teens who have gone missing from group homes.

Other reasons for going missing include substance abuse issues, a mental health condition, according to the Surrey RCMP website. Sometimes they simply want to get away.

When the RCMP receive a report of someone who's disappeared, they will go to the missing person's home and search for clues. They'll talk to the complainant, people in the neighbourhood and determine if anything looks suspicious. Officers will also contact their colleagues in forces like the Vancouver police and Transit Police.

Social media has also been useful, especially when tracking down young people. Police have followed teens through their Facebook friends.

"We're pretty plugged in as far as technology goes," Halskov says.

The Surrey RCMP also don't give up on unsolved cases. They still have a file open on Albert Humphrey Wilkinson, who went missing in 1957, and they won't close it until they find a body — or 100 years have passed.

Last year, the unit began profiling a missing person every month to generate tips in cold cases. They started with Stephen Begg, a software designer who went missing in February 2011.

The monthly appeals haven't generated much new information yet, but Halskov says it's worth the work: "Maybe someone's been out of the country and didn't see media attention. Next thing you know, they're back home."

Photo gallery Missing People In Surrey, B.C. See Gallery