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SIO Corner: Team Welfare

This week, before concluding on the benefits and the need for good Leadership, Teambuilding and Innovation we discuss the welfare of the team, which can often be overlooked in the desire to bring the investigation to a successful conclusion ........

In this series we 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).

Managing Welfare

Major crime enquiry teams can and do become adversely affected by the nature of their work. They may be coping under intense pressure and/or engaging in emotionally charged dialogue with victims, witnesses, or members of the community. The SIO and their management team have an important responsibility for dealing with and minimizing the consequences and subsequently controlling adverse effects, as far as possible.

There is a statutory duty for employers under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to assess the risk of stress-related ill health arising from work activities, and under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to take measures to control it. This means there have to be risk assessments carried out for potential stress-related problems and adequate control measures implemented. In addition to legal requirements, stress can adversely affect the performance of individuals and there are strong ethical reasons for treating staff properly and providing support when it is needed.

People use a variety of coping mechanisms to deal with stress and pressure. The SIO must notice the warning signs, remembering there is always a cause for irrational behaviour. Dealing with death and brutality is a horrible business, often taken for granted as ‘part of the job’.

Experiencing the trauma of a young child’s death or a maggot-infested, mutilated, decomposing corpse is never just ‘another day at the office’.

There are the emotions, antics, and sometimes verbal and physical abuse from extremely unpleasant and vicious people to cope with. People have to put their feelings aside during the working shift, deal with any potential negative psychological effects, then try to be ordinary people at home, yet actually suffer from post-traumatic symptoms.

It is important to spot the link between welfare, morale, and stress. The SIO must not overlook or neglect this area because s/he is too busy with task management. Welfare should never be treated as an afterthought.

Checklist—Practical approaches to addressing welfare

• Identify stress hazards and indicators, eg long hours, demanding workloads, poor working relationships, sick leave, poor morale, and try and introduce measures to keep them under control.
• The SIO should be sensible enough to recognize when their own stress levels are too high and have adequate coping mechanisms ready.
• Send home people who have worked long hours and/or arrange for them to be relieved—task someone to do this and monitor working hours.
• Informal debriefs at the end of a working day are a useful means of winding down before everyone goes home.
• Discuss stress issues and welfare during team briefings.
• Appropriate humour is a good antidote and can reduce tensions and keep morale high.
• Keep staff properly nourished, eg if no canteen facilities send out for a food buffet for everyone to share.
• Choose words carefully when debriefing things that have gone wrong. People naturally become defensive if told they have done ‘wrong’. Use positive words and phrases, and discuss how things could have been done differently, which is easier to tolerate and accept.
• Arrange social functions where everyone is encouraged to attend. Alleviate travel problems and excuses by arranging or subsidizing transport.
• ‘Away days’ are useful and provide an opportunity for a change of venue and environment, and can be concluded by a social get-together.
• Establish confidential access to welfare support or counselling (formal or informal—a friend or colleague may be just as good as a professional). Ensure confidentiality is maintained if necessary and appropriate. Counselling can also be conducted in groups.
• Enforce time off and leave.
• Establish workload variance (eg redistributing hard-to-do or tedious tasks—without losing continuity in a line of enquiry).
• Periodic welfare and basic health checks are important.
• Encourage people to stay fit and healthy. Nothing happens without energy, which may have to be considerable during prolonged working conditions.
• Proper food and drink are a necessity—keep up blood/sugar levels.
• Make the best use of ‘down time’—use it to fully recharge the batteries ready for the next challenge.
• Constantly monitor and review effectiveness of any remedies.
• Communicate with staff regularly.
• Encourage early admission of errors, oversights, or mistakes for prompt remedial action.
• Make a record of any problems identified and how they have been addressed.

This chapter has covered a key skill area that has to be worked hard on to perfect. Leadership is not an easy concept and becoming an effective leader as well as a good investigator can pose a significant challenge.

However the more time and effort an SIO can put into studying the various principles outlined in this chapter the more they will find that becoming a leader and good manager will come naturally.

Through developing a talent for leadership the SIO will increase their chances of a successful and rewarding career, not to mention produce good results. The chapter has provided what has been intended to be a mixture of practical advice and some essential academic principles.

It is hoped these will provide sufficient guidance and inspiration when it is most needed. The idea is to keep working at these principles and a good SIO will always take something away and learn something new from every enquiry they are involved with to increase their skills and knowledge. The lessons learnt can sometimes be harsh but such is the nature of this contentious and challenging responsibility.

Self-development in this area cannot be ignored and time must be taken to reflect on personal style to grow into the type of leader that matches an SIO’s vision of what a good leader should look like.

Next week we move onto Initial Response - the Golden Hour - from the time that the incident is reported and the SIO and his / her team need to swing into action.

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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