A NEW innovative app to help family and friends find missing loved ones has been launched by a former Teesside police officer.

Misper named after the short form term police officers use when discussing a missing person has been created by Paul Cooper, 39, from Stockton.

Paul, who worked for both Cleveland Police and Lincolnshire Police, has spent the past two years working on the app ready for its launch.

“In my years in the police, I saw firsthand the challenges and complexities involved in finding missing people, particularly those with mental health issues,” said Paul.

“With Misper, I wanted to create a tool that could make a real difference in these critical situations.”

Having lost several friends to suicide and known a number of relatives of friends who have gone missing, Paul also has personal experience of the trauma families and friends go through when people go missing or die by suicide.

On one occasion, he found himself on the doorstep of a friend whose brother was suicidal who he took to hospital for a mental health assessment. He was released and detained again by the police for another mental health assessment before being allowed to return home. Tragically, he later took his own life.

“I still think about what I could have done differently to help and whether any other options were available that may have prevented his death,” he said.

“It’s difficult to put into words what drove me to build the Misper app other than the guilt and sadness I felt having dealt with people who later went on to take their own lives.

“Whilst the Misper app won’t bring back anyone we’ve lost to suicide, it could save someone who is struggling today.”

The app is a culmination of Paul’s eight-and-a-half year police career and experience in handling cases of missing people at risk due to their mental health conditions. The app is built upon publicly available research that correlates certain factors such as gender, age and mental health conditions with the likelihood of where the missing person may be found.

“The data we have is powerful,” said Paul. “It shows clear patterns, for example, suicidal females are often found closer to home than males, and different self-harm methods are used by each gender.”

“It’s not just about searching more; it’s about searching smarter,” he added.

Misper integrates this research into a user-friendly mobile application, using a traffic light system to indicate the likelihood of where a missing person suffering from specific mental health conditions might be located.

“The system is designed to guide search efforts more effectively, when there’s no suspicion of third-party involvement.”

Users can upload a photograph and provide a full description of the missing person, and the search administrator can add up to nine other people to the search map, enhancing coordination and efficiency.

“Social media platforms have seen a surge in groups dedicated to sharing appeals, creating posters, and organising physical searches for missing individuals. More and more people are getting involved, eager to help.

“However, many of these volunteers lack the necessary knowledge and training.”