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SIO Corner: The Golden Hour

This week we end our discussion on Initial Response by looking again at the crucial time for almost all investigations - 'The Golden Hour' ...

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 ‘Golden Hour(s)’ Principle

The ‘Golden Hour(s)’ concept is one largely used by the medical profession and relates to a basic rule that, in cases of severe trauma, medical complications can occur if a patient is not managed appropriately and expeditiously.

The same principle can be applied to the first actions taken and response to a reported serious crime. The benefits associated with getting the most out of initial evidence-gathering opportunities and fast-tracking urgent enquiries are similar to those in medical settings—except there are threats not only to life but also to the potential loss of evidence that can never be recouped.

Early decisions and actions have far-reaching consequences, and that is what the golden hour principle refers to.

The rule is applicable after the moment of very first contact, made either to call management centres, public service desks, enquiry counters, or via reports made to police officers and staff. The correct identification of an incident at this point, be it serious crime and/or homicide, is vital in order to orchestrate a thorough and dynamic response.

Many homicides and other serious crimes are detected as a direct consequence of prompt and decisive actions such as locating and arresting offenders, obtaining witness details, seizing valuable CCTV footage, preserving forensic evidence, etc.

The Golden Hour(s) is a time when forensic evidence is most fresh and easiest to detect (eg blood is still wet), memories are still sharp, witnesses are likely to be at their most co-operative, offenders are nervous and unguarded, and lies and alibis are at their most vulnerable.

Initial Actions—Roles and Responsibilities

The following sections deal with the roles and responsibilities of those who are most likely to form part of the initial response. The SIO must fully understand and appreciate what these vital roles entail in order to conduct a review process and confirm they have performed them correctly.

Once more the importance of the A B C principle is applicable (Assume nothing, Believe nothing, Challenge/check everything).

Mistakes and errors can and do happen and it is absolutely essential any mistakes or omissions are discovered and recovered quickly. There must, of course, be a clear audit trail of any remedial action taken, thereby demonstrating transparency and total honesty of purpose.

When debriefing those involved in initial actions the SIO must recognize it is essential to encourage people to be open and honest about what they did or did not do in order to rectify any mistakes. Mistakes cannot be put right if they are withheld or concealed in order to keep someone out of trouble.

Openness and honesty must be encouraged in order for all staff to feel comfortable and not too intimidated so they communicate honestly about what actions they took. Inevitably some will not do so, which is why it is important to check, check, and check again.

KEY POINT—The ‘Five Building Block Principles’

The Murder Investigation Manual uses an analogy and well-known term known as the Five Building Block Principles. These are used to describe the main principles which underpin the intial response by officers and staff who become involved in the initial stages of a major crime investigation.

The following headings will be discussed at length in this handbook and are represented here to consider alongside all the procedures that will be discussed:

(Murder Investigation Manual, ACPO Centrex 2006, 35)

Next week we will consider the Initial Actions of the SIO - including importantly where he/she should attend - office or scene.

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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