Santa Maria police see huge decrease in number of missing person - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Santa Maria police see huge decrease in number of missing persons cases

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In November 2015, a KSBY investigation found the Santa Maria Police Department had a staggering 155 unsolved missing persons cases, the highest number of such cases of any law enforcement agency in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

Now, Police Chief Ralph Martin says those numbers have dropped significantly, to fewer than 100.

"A number of people have come forward and told us that either the missing person was found and returned home, might be incarcerated, or living in a different state," Martin said.

He says the detective bureau increased from 6 to 12 detectives last year, so the department now has a part-time detective who devotes all of his time to missing person cases.

"(The) Detective bureau had been so overwhelmed recently that missing persons just wasn't a priority, which sounds kind of difficult to deal with, but that's the reality of it,” Martin said. “It actually had more to do with a detective or somebody assigned to actually go through all of the missing and found people through the systems in the United States and track them and juxtapose that against the missing people we had here in Santa Maria."

The SMPD says it's focused on one of its latest cases: 16-year-old Ivan Nunez, who disappeared from his birthday party the day after Christmas.

"We're hoping it's not foul play, but that's always a possibility,” Martin said. “This is one of those cases where nothing really adds up at this point. We find nothing in his background that would indicate there was any issues whatsoever. He just simply vanished from the party."

Martin says Ivan’s case is a top priority and that a detective working full time has logged 200+ hours and conducted more than 20 interviews in the investigation.

Martin says the SMPD has implemented a new 18-page policy on how to handle missing persons scenarios from the moment dispatch takes a call, down to when detectives are on the case.

Related links:
Santa Maria Police Department missing persons case list (1/7/2016)

Related coverage:
SLIDESHOW: Missing on the Central Coast

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