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SIO Corner: Crime Scene Documentation (Cont'd)

This week we look at maps, plans, satellite images, and aerial photography, along with computerised scene reproduction

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).

Maps, Plans, Satellite Images, and Aerial Photography

Producing a detailed plan drawing or map of the scene is something normally considered useful for the SIO and their investigation teams. The exact position, scale, proximity, and dimensions of locations and objects of interest can prove invaluable.

This complements any scene photographs or visual recordings that are good at recording ‘close-ups’, etc, but a detailed plan produced by an expert or map can be used to show context and precise locations, particularly at complex crime scenes.

These may also be used to facilitate the effective communication of information, which may be helpful if several multi-disciplinary specialists are involved with the investigation. Maps may also be
used to delineate possible search areas if there is evidence or suspicion that an object, items, or further scene may require to be located, or proven otherwise absent from a particular location.


Any crime scene plan or map must always have a relevant title, key, date, time (if necessary), and orientation, usually given by the inclusion of a north (N) arrow.

The SIO can also produce their own rough sketches or plans of scenes when they attend to act as a visual aide memoir for considering cordon and search parameters, early hypotheses, conducting
briefings, etc. It may of course be some time before they receive an official map or plan from the expert who has been allocated the task.

Maps and plans can also be considered not just at major crime scenes where the offence has occurred but also at other possible crime scenes such as during house searches to show the exact location of where exhibits have been found.

Worthy of consideration is a fly-over of an outdoor scene by an aircraft (eg police helicopter). This will help record the exact location of, for example, a body deposition site and may also
help make other significant discoveries. The resulting photography will provide a valuable tool for later briefings and decision-making processes.

The SIO may also wish to take advantage of some of the satellite imagery that is now available on the internet such as Google earth. These types of satellite images can be invaluable for helping to get a good appreciation of the layout of scenes and their proximity to other significant geographical locations, including buildings and roads, although the date the imagery was taken must always be borne in mind.

Maps obtained from the internet should not, however, be used or relied upon for evidential purposes.

Computerised Scene Reproduction

Depending on the nature of the case there may be opportunities to produce a computerized reproduction and/or a reconstruction of the crime scene to help gain a better understanding of what took place, in what sequence, and how it happened. This will help in:

Sophisticated computer enhancements, animated reconstructions, 3D models, and 360-degree camera shots can now be used to recreate a crime scene and examine witness accounts, timings,
distance, etc. This is a developing area of investigation, which can be used in court to show a jury the exact sequence of events, positions, and importance of exhibits and forensic samples, or
how the evidence combines, making a clearer picture of fragmented or complex evidence.

It can make a big impact on juries, however a cautionary note is that the process can be very time consuming to complete which may make the examination process of scenes take a lot longer.

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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