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SIO Corner: Management of Crime Scenes

This week we look at the role of the SIO and their Crime Scene Manager and Co-ordinator when managing a crime scene

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).

Role of the SIO

What constitutes a crime scene is up to the SIO to decide. Prior to the arrival of the SIO, however, certain decisions will probably have already been made. These must be reviewed and further decisions made as to the following:

Checklist—SIO initial decisions at crime scene

Before entering any crime scene, the SIO and crime scene manager (CSM) must not only determine its boundaries but also decide how to approach it and determine what fragile evidence may be present that requires special and perhaps immediate attention (eg a body or something such as a footprint out of doors). The scope of the search is usually determined using the 5 × WH + H principles. Any developing hypotheses must remain fluid and the SIO must remember that initial theories are always provisional and must remain dynamic. New facts emerging may mean theories may have to be reassessed or modified.

A good SIO is wise to remember that anything and everything may be classed as evidence and become significant later, and must be treated with care until proven otherwise.

Key Point

A crime scene always belongs to the SIO and there might only be one opportunity to get it right, so the SIO should ensure that correct procedures and processes are adhered to and they are done thoroughly and professionally.

Role of Crime Scene Manager and Co-ordinator (CSM/CSC)

Once involved in the investigation of a major enquiry or a large complex case the SIO should ensure there is an appointed crime scene manager and/or co-ordinator if more than one major scene is involved (CSM/CSC).

The status or seniority for these roles may vary according to the nature of the investigation. For some investigations, including all homicide cases, they should go to accredited crime scene managers (CSM), although for less serious cases an experienced Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) may be utilized.

The CSM or CSC should form part of the SIO’s management team. Their role includes assessing, deploying, and managing staff both from the force crime scene examination unit perspective and also from other agencies. They act as an adviser to the SIO on examination strategies, evidential types, values, and prioritization of exhibits; they also maintain comprehensive notes and contribute to the SIO’s forensic strategies. They are effectively the focal point for all forensic-related enquiries, after the scene examination has finished and beyond.

Management of Crime Scenes

The earlier a CSM/CSC is involved the better managed and more coordinated the investigation will be. For pre-planned crime investigations, involving a CSM at the preparation stage will enable appropriate tactical options to be put into place prior to any searches (eg execution of warrants) and therefore forensic recovery potential will be maximized.

The CSM appointed to the investigation should be the SIO’s first point of contact for any deployment of CSI staff. The SIO should not try to deploy a CSI without prior consultation with the CSM, because it is essential for the CSM to be involved in the management and development of all crime scene strategies and processes, etc.

The CSM is also the most appropriately qualified person to deploy additional CSI staff as they have an overview of all other aspects of the investigation, and are also able to develop appropriate strategies and advice on the most suitable sampling techniques, best practice, and brief forensic staff on behalf of the SIO.

Note: There are also available specialist forensic advisers that can be supplied by either a reputable forensic provider or from the NPIA (who come free of charge!). These are usually experienced scientists who can perform a co-ordinating and reviewing role and advise the SIO on possible examination options to ensure that all possibilities for achieving results to support the investigation are explored.

Checklist—Role of crime scene co-ordinator (CSC)

Role of crime scene manager (CSM)

(Source: National Crime Scene Investigation Manual, issue 1 (ACPO National Crime Scene Investigation Board, 2007), 46–7.)

Next week we look at issues relating to exhibits and scene security.

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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