Vol. 79, No. 2Ask an expert

Portrait of a man.

Just keep digging

Solving cases with common sense, community

Acting Sgt. Raymond Payette attributes the success of the Vancouver Police Department's Missing Persons Unit to hard work, good communication and a close relationship with the community. Credit: Vancouver Police Department


Acting Sergeant Raymond Payette joined the Vancouver Police Department's Missing Persons Unit seven years ago. He has a clearance rate of 99.99 per cent and earned a reputation as an expert in missing person's investigations across Canada. He spoke with Deidre Seiden about his team's diligent work ethic and how his own family history motivates him.

You have an incredibly high clearance rate. How do you do it?

I'm a short, chubby, French-Canadian guy. I don't run terribly fast. I'm a terrible shot. But I did take the service part of my oath very much to heart when I joined. I'm like a good dog on a bone; I keep going. And I think that's what my unit is. We're like little terriers. We just keep digging and digging and digging. We're a very dedicated group of four. We're lucky we have a dedicated unit. Just that fact plays a huge role in our success rate. It's high, but we don't find everyone alive.

What's challenging about this field?

One of our challenges is volume. Everybody always wants to talk about the enormous file. The file where all of a sudden 47 people are working on it, which is very important, but that is the rare thing that happens. We worked on 5,600 files in 2016. We get 15 or 16 new files every day. Everybody forgets about the other 14 or 15 new cases a day. But those families are worried about their kid, mom or whomever, too.

How do you keep up with the workload?

My unit is full of outstanding investigators, but more important they're outstanding people. We care about the work. We talk about the files all the time, and that gives you a ton of different ideas on what to do. We have a very good ability to exchange opinions and information and not get offended. Nobody walks out of the room mad.

And we're good at triaging files — what's good, what's bad and what's really bad. I don't know if we have the best detectives in the world. I'm not the best detective in the world. I'm not the best detective on our floor, but I do think our ability to triage files and look at them critically and with common sense, I would put us up against any unit in Canada.

Finally, we work closely with the community. The Downtown Eastside is an enormous driver of a lot of policing and missing person's issues in the City of Vancouver. We have a lot of contacts there. We've worked very hard since I've been here to build those relationships.

What's important to you?

Before I became a police officer, I ran a restaurant, so I believe in customer service. I can say we give good customer service here. If a file goes long term and we meet the family in person, if something bad happens, we always do the next of kin notifications. It's important for us. A couple of families have said to me, "We don't want a stranger telling us our son has passed away." They don't really know who I am. They met me four weeks ago because I became the detective in charge of their file, but for those four weeks you become part of that family.

What keeps you motivated?

Many years ago, my grandma's brother rented a sailboat. He was told that it doesn't look great out there, but he and his friend went out anyway. They never came back.

When I was kid, we had a boat. Anytime we'd go out on the water, you could tell my grandma was searching the water for him all those years later. She knew there was no realistic chance that she would ever find him, but it hung with her for her entire life.

People are tormented when their loved ones are missing. One of the most difficult things for a family, and one of the things our unit does a very good job of, is understanding that people are stuck. I view it as purgatory. They can't grieve because if they grieve they feel guilty because they don't know if the person is dead. At the same time, they can't move forward because they don't know.

They don't want to hear the worst, but they want to know what happened. Understanding this pushes me every day.

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