Nearly 5,000 investigations into missing people were carried out in South Yorkshire over an 11-month period last year.
There were 4,894 reports of missing people lodged between January 1 and December 1 – 1,901 in Sheffield, 1,166 in Doncaster, 968 in Barnsley and 859 in Rotherham.
The figure is up from 2,928 over the same period in 2013 and 2,720 in 2012.
Police chiefs say the increase is down to a change in the way missing people are recorded, but admit the figure could be higher because of more people reporting disappearances since the publication of Professor Alexis Jay’s report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.
PC Joanne Wyke, a missing person’s officer in Sheffield, said an average of six people are reported missing in the city each day, with the majority aged 11 to 18.
Of the 4,894 people reported missing last year, 3,232 were children.
PC Wyke said every disappearance has to be treated as a ‘potential murder.’
She said: “It is not just a case of finding the missing person and returning them home – we have to establish what people are running away from or to.”
Pc Wyke said those who are reported missing regularly have action plans in place, based on input from agencies including the police, schools and social workers, following meetings to establish possible causes of disappearances.
She said the aim is to prevent people from slipping through the net by offering them help and support to address their problems before it is too late.
She said: “We have changed the way we record missing people, so now the minute we receive a call reporting a disappearance that person is on our radar and we look at what may be going on in their lives that has caused them to run away or disappear.
“All the other agencies are involved and we are talking more now than ever before – developing plans and interventions earlier than ever before to help those at risk.”
She said since the publication of the Jay Report on the scale of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham ‘people are more inclined then ever before to pick up the phone and report concerns’.
She said: “People have confidence we will treat disappearances seriously.
“We look at each case individually and work out what issues that person has in their life and put in support and interventions.”
She said most missing people are tracked down within hours or days of vanishing, but there are some on police records who disappeared without trace years ago.
John Deakin was aged 53 when he left his home in Stannington to go walking in Bridlington 10 years ago, but never returned.
And Andrew Gosden, from Balby, Doncaster, was 14 when he went missing in September 2007.
He was last seen getting off a train in London, but has never been seen since.