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SIO Corner: Initial Response & Teamwork (Cont'd)

This week we continue to consider the initial response patrol officers and of detective officers who may be despatched shortly thereafter to the crime scene and the impact of their initial assessment and actions .....

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).

The JDLR Principle

There will always be a use for practical common sense and shrewdness that can’t be taught on training courses or listed on checklists. SIOs should expect that officers entrusted with attending any report of serious crime will be able to spot or notice things that appear unusual or out of place (such as a ‘staged crime’, for instance) and put all their intuition and policing skills and knowledge to good use.

It must be stressed that they are the ones who do not always have the luxury of slow-time, or a textbook, or aide-memoire to hand, nor indeed are they likely to have the benefit of all the essential facts and information that becomes available later on. This is why an on-call SIO who takes command of an investigation must thoroughly check and review what initial actions have been taken and any decisions, assumptions, and conclusions that have been made.

Clearly attending and dealing with reports of sudden deaths, suicides, or reports of missing persons requires a lot of tenacity. The latter category in particular is a challenge for any experienced investigator.

For example, a man who reports his female partner missing and has in fact murdered her, may leave some important clues around. Initiative should be applied to find and note things that look out of place, such as missing or broken items of furniture or ornaments (indicating an argument has taken place), signs of recent cleaning such as the smell of disinfectant, or a small bonfire in the garden, or a missing shower curtain (to wrap up a body perhaps), heavily mud stained shoes, outer clothing or a muddy vehicle (from digging or body concealment) are such examples.

KEY POINT—The JDLR Principle

A very simple principle for officers to follow when responding to reported incidents and making initial enquiries, is to use their instincts and to look for anything that ‘JUST DOESN’T LOOK RIGHT’ (JDLR).
Taking the initiative and responding to ‘gut instinct’ or being bold and sensible enough to listen to what instincts are suggesting can, in some circumstances, lead to the early detection of major crime.

Good Teamwork

The SIO takes responsibility for investigations into crimes that are of utmost gravity and likely to contain many complex and connected actions, challenges, and procedures. It is likely that a sizeable number of these will present themselves in the initial stages and an essential ingredient for success is teamwork. This involves a combined effort between a group of dedicated professionals who join forces to produce an efficient and effective response. Each person and stage of the process connects to become part of a chain that is only as strong as its weakest link.

Even if the SIO does not become involved immediately, they must set the tone for a teamwork approach as soon as possible by leading, managing, and co-ordinating all work and activity for various roles and responsibilities involved in the enquiry, which may include such roles as:

• call handler/taker/radio operator and despatcher
• duty officer/incident manager (supervisor)
• counter clerk/patrol officer
• first response officer(s)
• patrol supervisory staff
• any designated bronze or silver commanders
• detective officers (and senior/supervisory detectives)
• FLOs
• crime scene investigators/managers/coordinators
• other experts (pathologist, forensic scientists, etc).

Dealing with Emergencies at the Scene

Officers may have to deal with pressing emergencies at crime scenes and must be able to spot dangers, think quickly, and adopt a dynamic approach. They may be faced with very challenging circumstances and, in extreme cases, may have to instinctively abandon crime scenes, remove or avoid danger, and seize vital exhibits such as weapons, or leave a crime scene because of the severity of the danger or risks involved.

Potential threats to members of the public and/or police officers in some circumstances may present no alternative. Safety considerations and the preservation of life are priorities that will always override the needs of an investigation.

Inner-city areas where there is distrust of the police, bitter gang feuds, and regular firearms usage, or hostile families and friends of victims, are classic examples. These are of course the exception rather than the rule, but worthy of mention because they can present added complications.

In such cases the SIO may have to look at alternative ways of recreating scenes by use of, for example, CCTV, media footage, witness accounts, or photographs, because of the problems in containing contaminated or dangerous areas.

Safety of the public and the personnel sent to deal with emergencies and serious crimes is at all times of paramount importance and non-negotiable. If there is a conflict of interest between public safety and the investigation, the former always takes precedence.

Next week we will continue with 'The Golden Hour' which is so crucial to the SIO's further actions and the remainder of the investigation.

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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