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SIO Corner: Crime Scene Assessments

This week we look at the importance of a crime scene assessments and the potential scene contaminators

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).

Crime Scene Assessments

It is essential for the SIO and the CSM/CSI and any other experts that have been summoned to work together as a team in order to establish and agree what constitutes the scene parameters, what preservation measures are necessary, and what the scene forensic examination, search, and evidence recovery plan will look like. This includes any plan that may be required to recover a victim’s body.

The initial crime scene assessment is usually a precursor to any tactical meeting which may take place at a suitable venue outside the inner cordon (but perhaps within the outer cordon) when the precise methods and plans for the scene are discussed, decided, and agreed. This meeting should be attended by any relevant experts and advisers the SIO calls upon in order to produce the most effective search and evidence recovery plan, and may include a forensic pathologist, biologists, ballistic examiners, and any other of experts or ‘ologists’ as required.

Once agreed, the strategy and tactical plans should be recorded and any resulting document ideally countersigned to the SIO’s satisfaction by all parties contributing to it.

A crime scene assessment is therefore effectively the first part of the process and provides not only an opportunity to review and check that important preservation procedures are in place but also is an opportunity for the SIO to get a firsthand ‘feel’ for the scene and begin the process of initial thoughts and hypothesis building.

The SIO may want those who have already been involved at the scene (such as the senior detective who responded and initially took charge) to ‘walk and talk’ them through the crime scene, taking care to prevent any risk of contamination or cross-contamination by wearing protective clothing. This will enable the SIO to make an evaluation of the nature and extent of the crime and the subsequent examination and searches required, including the requirement for any specialists or forensic experts.

In the case of a body remaining at the scene, any decision making should always include a forensic pathologist. If a murder has occurred this process is vital for determining and agreeing a full forensic body-recovery strategy from within the primary crime scene.


1. A crime scene assessment can be aided by first accounts from witnesses, paramedics, and first officer(s) attending the scene. It can also be done with the aid of a review of a visual recording made of the crime scene by a specialist photographer, followed by a physical inspection by the SIO and CSM. This may also include any other appropriate forensic experts as determined by the SIO, who must also be provided with relevant information about the case.
2. If there are good reasons for not entering a scene to conduct an assessment, i.e. due to the high risks and dangers involved such as after a large fire or contamination, some agencies (including fire and ambulance) may have the means of providing live-time imagery via ‘reach-back’ or microwave/transmitting technology. Specialist equipment can be deployed which communicates with a command and control point and can be useful for assessing, planning, and observing evidence recovery.
3. Scene assessments provide an opportunity to identify evidence that may need recovering quickly, not just forensic items but things such as passive data (e.g. CCTV or ANPR cameras) that may have recorded something vitally important. Early recovery could enable vital fast track actions to be instigated.

Potential Scene Contaminators

It is always worthwhile during a scene assessment and when looking at scene preservation considering potential evidence contaminators or destroyers.

Checklist—Potential scene contaminators

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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