The Cape Navigator

Seaside Community Newspaper

Opinion, South Africa

Unrecognizable: How Poor Quality Photos Undermine Missing Persons Investigations

Michael Hawthorne

The disappearance of a citizen, especially a child, is a societal tragedy. It demands a concerted effort to locate the missing person and provide answers to their loved ones. However, more than 2715 missing persons cases in South Africa suggest that the South African Police Service (SAPS) might be failing to fulfil this critical duty.

One glaring issue repeatedly raised is the abysmal quality of photographs released on the Be On the Look Out (BOLO) or Missing Persons List. In many instances, the photographs are so distorted, pixelated, or blurry that they render identification nearly impossible. While it’s doubtful that families of the missing would intentionally provide poor-quality photos, this issue raises questions about how best to obtain clear images. Regardless of who bears the initial responsibility, the use of poor-quality images undoubtedly undermines efforts to locate missing individuals.


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The sense of apathy from SAPS is disheartening. The recent disappearance of a child, Joslin, further highlights shortcomings. Police claimed to have “exhausted all avenues,” pulling back resources without finding any trace of the child. Blaming the spread of misinformation on social media for the lack of progress is a deflection, an attempt to avoid accountability. This attitude undermines public trust and raises questions about the extent of the efforts made in finding missing persons.

The public rightfully questions the thoroughness of the initial search. As many concerned citizens wonder where Joshlin is and whether CCTV footage in and around Saldanha could hold the key to Joshlin’s disappearance.

The need for greater urgency in missing persons cases is undeniable. It’s time for SAPS to step up. Investing in basic photographic technology or simple image enhancement would make a substantial difference. Proactive collaboration with agencies like the Department of Home Affairs for original high-quality digital copies of images should become standard protocol. Schools and the Department of Education could also play a role by facilitating annual yearbooks or other updated images in case a student goes missing.

The current situation does little to inspire public trust. South Africa cannot allow complacency and ineptitude to define missing persons investigations. While one hopes for technological advancements to aid in the future, the immediate priority must be demonstrating that SAPS is committed to finding every missing person, no matter the circumstances.

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