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SIO Corner: Performing The Role

As those who have passed this way already know, the role of SIO requires, not only additional professonal qualities, but equally importantly additional personal qualities to be a success .....

|STARTHTML|In this series we will look at various aspects of life as an SIO. This includes the necessary skill sets for the successful SIO, the management of serious crime investigation and specific elements of investigative practice from initial response through crime scene examination and investigative strategies to dealing with suspects and the media. The articles are excerpts from the 2nd edition of Blackstone's, the 'Senior Investigating Officers' Handbook', written by two highly experienced SIOs (see 'About the Authors' at the end of the article).|ENDHTML|

|STARTHTML|Performing the Role|ENDHTML|


There is nothing quite like a a mobile phone ringing at the bedside in the early hours of the morning, or while on call to get the pulse racing and adrenalin flowing. An on-call SIO has to be extremely well prepared for any incident they may have to go and take charge of or respond to, and be capable of springing into action immediately and hitting the ground running. An acronym to remember is AYR:


Once in charge an SIO may be engaged on an enquiry for a considerable length of time, putting in continued and prolonged hours, particularly in the early stages of an investigation. Going long periods without proper rest and food, together with pressure and time constraints, are not going to help when making critical decisions. An SIO therefore has to be well prepared and ready for the challenge that lies ahead and able to manage themselves very effectively in order to perform the role.

|STARTHTML|Checklist—Basic kit for on-call SIOs|ENDHTML|

• A fresh ‘daybook’ open at the first page, with a pen ready to record all information, details, and decisions immediately right from the initial contact.
• A fresh policy book (and spare).
• A ‘grab’ or ‘go’ bag containing all the essential items.
• Essential documents such as the makings of a paper management system (which would include such things as list of actions raised, paper actions themselves, and major incident (MI) write-up sheets and message forms).
• Mobile phone and charger (and/or spare battery).
• List of important contact numbers (eg CSI, pathologist, FLO, etc).
• Police airwaves radio, spare battery, and list of channels.
• Suitable and/or practical clothing (including change of top).
• Freshly prepared food/sandwiches (in the fridge) ready to go.
• Drink (eg cold drink or thermos flask).
• Street map (eg A–Z or satellite navigation system).
• Torch/batteries.
• Outdoor warm and waterproof clothing.
• Clipboard or similar armed with plenty of writing/drawing implements.
• Forensic suit/mask/gloves/overshoes.
• Vehicle full of fuel and ignition keys at the ready (or other suitable transport, or driver).
• Identification badge and/or ID card (name, rank, and role should be easily recognizable), plus spare ID card for prominent display in the SIO’s own vehicle if it is going to be left at or near a crime scene).
• Money/change for emergencies.
• The SIOs’ handbook in readily accessible place.


Some clothing or dress may be suitable for a cold outdoor scene in the early hours of the morning, but might not be ideal for facing cameras or briefing a large team of officers who have just come on duty later in the day. It is sensible to have something to change into if an SIO does not know how long they are to be engaged, which is normally the case.

|STARTHTML|Stress, Resilience, and Time Management|ENDHTML|

There is little doubt that performing the role of SIO requires lots of energy and stamina because it is extremely demanding work. In some circumstances it may be necessary to be at an incident room long before others arrive and then still be there when they have all gone home. It is therefore essential, no matter how experienced or professional a person is, to be able to manage physically and mentally under extreme pressure, sometimes fatigue, and probably stressful circumstances. A good manager and leader is someone who can plan to avoid these things and recognize when the symptoms of not coping creep in.

Stress of course is counterproductive. It should be distinguished from enthusiasm and energy, which an SIO does need. Stress is a personal thing which manifests itself in different people in different ways, eg loss of patience, arguing, inappropriate behaviour. It is useful to recognize when this occurs in order to find out what is causing the problem, and deal with it.

Tiredness and taking on too much personal responsibility is one cause of stress. Having a strategy for resilience is a means of managing it, eg the early appointment of a deputy and/or someone to hand over to in order to take some rest. A good analogy for the SIO’s office in the early stages of a major investigation is the resemblance to a doctor’s surgery, ie lots of people queuing and waiting to speak urgently one-to-one with the SIO and which must be managed effectively.

An open-door policy is fine, but sometimes it needs to be kept shut in order to get on with some work or hold a meeting in private. There must be some control over who comes into the office and how long they stay, ensuring other supervisors down the chain are not being by-passed.

Having a reliable and trustworthy deputy increases resilience, as does a good ‘loggist’ and/or ‘staff officer’ such as an experienced detective sergeant (who should also monitor the SIO’s welfare), and also the delegation of key tasks to relieve the pressure—nominees can arrange searches and team tasks, conduct cascade briefings, manage duties and vehicles, etc. The SIO cannot perform all tasks and speak to everyone, nonetheless they should ensure that whoever has delegated responsibilities reports back at regular intervals. This can be at stipulated times, such as formal or informal briefings.

Time management is critical. The SIO must be ruthlessly efficient at getting the most out of their available and valuable time. Some matters and certain individuals can conspire to commandeer an SIO’s time. The SIO should be prepared to be firm and polite to people, pointing out that some things are more pressing and urgent and others may have to wait until later on.

Investigative strategy meetings (eg forensic, telecoms, media, etc) need to be carefully managed and controlled to ensure an agenda is properly prepared and rigidly adhered to. Planning a day properly is important, whilst appreciating that things can and do change at a moment’s notice. Being unable to complete all necessary and urgent tasks may lead to stress and increased pressure levels.

The SIO does not always need to be present at everything—a decision about who should attend a post mortem, for instance, needs to be balanced against other critical responsibilities.


Creating time to sit quietly and enjoy personal space to gather thoughts without interruption is good practice. Hamsters on a wheel are sensible enough to stop when they get tired, and they go and lie down. The SIO should sometimes think likewise and put something back into their immune system, occasionally resting, even if only for a short space of time.

It is equally important to have a means of mentally ‘switching off’. Sometimes it may be difficult to concentrate on anything else while heading up a fascinating and challenging enquiry. Creating time to focus on unrelated matters and pursue other interests at a suitable point can significantly help reduce mental anxiety and stress. It refreshes the mind and clears the head ready to refocus and can be a useful coping mechanism.

Personal health management is fundamentally important, being mindful of energy and stamina levels and workloads. It is a bad idea to go without proper food and nourishment for long periods—if so energy levels can and will inevitably drop. All human beings have physiological needs and SIOs are no different (see Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ cited in chapter 3).

Being on duty for hours on end with a short turn-around time, no matter how keen and committed a person is, will not help when having to make rational decisions. This may be something highlighted later by a review team or external enquiry, particularly if things go wrong. It also applies to other staff, who must be considered in terms of their working time directives.

The SIO does not want added fatalities from, say, road traffic collisions on the way home after long shifts due to fatigue and tiredness. This includes specialists such as crime scene investigators, who often spend a lot of time at scenes, maybe battling against the elements and under difficult conditions.


Next week we'll review risk & control strategy models and conclude reviewing the role.


|STARTHTML|About the Authors: Detective Superintendent Tony Cook was a CID officer with Greater Manchester Police for over 31 years until his retirement in 2009. During his time as an SIO, he led a number of high profile investigations including operations into gangland violence at Moss Side, the Bolton murder of a teenage girl in 2002, and the Denton strangling case. He was a trained assessor for promotion and a qualified Authorising Officer under RIPA. Tony received 14 commendations and a first-class BSc Honours degree in social sciences and a Diploma in Social Policy & Criminology from the Open University. Andy Tattersall, formerly Detective Superintendent in Greater Manchester Police on the Force Major Incident Team, retired in 2007 after 33 years service and became the first ever Support Staff SIO in charge of a new Homicide Support Unit. With over 29 years in CID at all ranks Andy received the Homicide Working Group National Award for his Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Homicide in November 2006.


To see more details about the Senior Investigating Officers' Handbook, or to purchase a copy, click here

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