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SIO Corner: Firearms Incidents

This week we look at the role and responsibilities of the SIO in responding to Firearms Incidents and conclude the section on Initial Response

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).

Firearms Incidents

Serious crime sometimes involves the use of firearms and this presents different problems and considerations for attending and dealing with crime scenes and the initial response.
If any incident involves the criminal use of firearms then only armed officers in a protected vehicle should initially attend the scene. This is potentially the time when the public, the police, and other emergency services are at greatest risk from the suspect(s).

The advice that should be given to the first officer attending should be to make an immediate assessment of the situation from the information to hand using the aforementioned SAD CHALET model.

Officers who attend should apply basic firearm tactics, known as the Six Cs.

1. Confirm as far as possible the location of the suspect and that firearms are involved without unnecessarily exposing yourself to danger.

2. Cover to be taken, if possible, behind substantial material. Brick walls are usually sufficient. Motor vehicle bodies or wooden fences do not stop bullets.

3. Contact your supervisors and convince them of the serious nature of the risk and call for suitable back-up.

4. Civilians should be directed to a place of safety. Be positive.

5. Colleagues should be prevented from coming into possible danger areas. Direct them positively.

6. Contain the situation as far as practicable. Try to maintain observations on the suspect, but place emphasis on safety.

See also Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms (ACPO, 2006) and ACPO Emergency Procedures Manual (ACPO, 2002).

[Ed. Also refer to recent ACPO / NPIA guidance in relation to ‘Active Shooter’ scenarios]

The operational response to the incident may initially be one of neutralizing the scene and ensuring it is safe to deploy other resources, including ambulance personnel. This does not necessarily aid the successful securing of the scene for evidential potential, but may nevertheless be essential for safety reasons.

It may still be possible, however, to establish a rendezvous and forward control point provided they are not so close as to be in danger from gunfire. A log should be commenced at this location. Routes to and from the rendezvous point must also be ‘safe’.

An inner cordon can be arranged utilizing available unarmed personnel until suitable replacements by armed personnel become available. An outer cordon is also required which provides a buffer zone between the public and the inner cordon.

In these circumstances a gold, silver, and bronze command structure should be quickly established, with the SIO adopting the silver commander (investigation) role.

The forensic recovery of firearms and ammunition, and the examination of scenes where firearms have been used, present different requirements and considerations. The important points to stress for the initial considerations have already been covered in this section in terms of scene and exhibit preservation prior to a full and detailed examination and search.


This section has aimed to outline and explain the core functions and responsibilities of all those who may be involved in the initial response to a serious crime, and to explain the roles and responsibilities involved and high standards required. In doing so it is hoped it will provide those tasked carrying out these roles, and more significantly the SIO, with a good appreciation of what is required.

Checklists of duties for various tasks are never going to be exhaustive, nor are they intended to prevent the use of initiative. It must also be remembered and stressed that it is a team effort and the successful response that kick-starts any major investigation will always depend on the dedication, commitment, professionalism, and co-operation of all concerned.

It is intended that the lists provided will be useful for the SIO when they attend at the scene or even when they are first contacted about an incident. The early organization of thoughts around initial duties and responsibilities is a good process to apply the mind to as quickly as possible.

Checking and re-checking things that should be done have been done is what the role requires; there is hopefully less chance then of missing something that may be crucial to the investigation. It must be stressed that the final decision about appropriate investigative action and activities must be driven by the circumstances and nature of each individual investigation, and not by mere compliance with a checklist.

Finally, the most important points for the purposes of the SIO from this section are not only to demonstrate good leadership skills by taking early control of what could be chaotic and frantic circumstances, but also to check and review what important decisions have been made and activities have already taken place.

This is because the initial response comes in the period often referred to as the ‘golden hour(s)’ and as such will almost certainly have a critical bearing on the success of an investigation.

Next week we move on to the Management of the Crime Scenes and the Role of the SIO.

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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