An exclusive On Your Side Investigation reveals missing person policies often vary among Ohio police agencies that determine procedures followed when loved ones go missing.
Across Ohio, there are more than 800 missing persons, according to a website operated by the Ohio Attorney General's Office.
In addition, 143 children are missing, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The Cuyahoga County Missing Person Unit reports 251 missing persons countywide.
The difference in policies
Under state law, all law enforcement agencies are required to "develop and adopt a written policy" establishing procedures to be followed when families report loved ones are missing.
Policies for children are much more defined by federal law but policies for adults can often vary.
The Ohio Attorney General's Office provides a "suggested protocol," considered a best practices model that police can follow to comply with state law.
Even so, our investigation of 35 of the largest police agencies in Northeast Ohio found policies can differ from community to community — including who is defined as a missing person.
Some follow a narrow state law definition of a missing person, while others are more expansive to include "anyone who is reported missing." It's up to each department to develop individual policies.
Our investigation found that simply crossing the street, from one community to another, can even define who is actually considered a missing person.
As a result of our investigation, Cuyahoga County, Mayfield Village and Middleburg Heights are creating new missing person policies.
And those policies and how they are followed can make critical differences.
In one disturbing example, the family of a missing 19-year-old believe the failure by police to launch an immediate search led to his death.
On Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, Cleveland police received a call at 5 a.m. that Quintin Hardon was missing from the Cleveland home where he had been staying and were warned that he may be suicidal and possibly returned to his parent's home in Brunswick Hills.
But Cleveland police failed to file a missing person report, an apparent violation of policy, and instead, called Brunswick Hills police to perform only a "welfare check".
In turn, Brunswick Hills police did not treat the case as a missing person and, according to Hardon's mother, failed to launch an immediate search, despite warning officers who arrived at their home at 5:30 a.m. that her son suffered from a rare blood disorder that had reached critical levels.
"I told them he's at risk for clots, stroke, he's probably got mental status changes because he's had mini strokes in the past, " says Celia Hardon, a registered nurse, who insists she demanded officers file a missing person report and launch an immediate search.
Brunswick Hills Police Chief Tim Sopkovich says that even though "the officer was aware of some type of a blood issue, that was reported back to Cleveland as a welfare check" and insists Hardon's family never asked for a search when officers arrived at their door.
The Hardon family ardently disagrees and even requested both the Medina County Sheriff's Department and the county prosecutor to launch an investigation into whether Brunswick Hills violated it's missing person policy.
To compound the tragedy, Hardon was probably never far away.
Hardon's body was discovered Wednesday, Jan. 25 in a wooded area roughly a half-mile away after his mother took to social media, begging those who lived in the area to launch their own search.
The cause of death has not been determined but his family believes complications from his blood disorder are to blame.
Meanwhile, the family's request for an investigation was turned over to the Ohio Attorney General's Office that found the case "does not reveal any criminal conduct" by members of the Brunswick Hills Police Department and closed the case.
A spokesperson for the attorney general's office conceded the investigation considered "only possible criminal" conduct, adding that the office "does not rule on whether police policy" was followed.
The Hardon family is devastated.
They're holding a memorial Sunday, April 30 from 1 to 4 p.m. at 12492 Prospect Road in Strongsville to raise awareness of Polycythemia — the rare blood disorder that affected Quintin.
The family has also opened a Fifth Third Bank Memorial Fund in Quintin's name.
"Many of our family members are both civic and public servants," said Celia Hardon. "We are not trying to be critical but we do want justice and for those who failed Quin to be held accountable."
What's the policy where you live?
News 5 requested missing person policies from counties and communities across Northeast Ohio. Here's what we received: