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SIO Corner: Role of PolSA

This week we look at the role of the Police Search Adviser in crime scene searches

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).

PolSA Searches

The SIO is always responsible for making the decision whether to deploy a PolSA-led search. This can be based on advice and guidance given by the PolSA. Once it has been decided to conduct a PolSA-led search, the SIO will:

1. Retain responsibility for deciding which persons, premises, or areas of ground are to be searched, and in consultation with the PolSA will also set the parameters in accordance with the investigative objectives. The policy should be recorded and cross-referenced with an entry in the SIO’s policy file.

2. At all times have access to the advice of the PolSA, who may suggest areas of search, methodology, and techniques, search assets, health and safety aspects, logistical and technical constraints, and limitations of the search.

3. Decide at which stage the crime scene examination teams and/or search teams will be deployed.

4. Ensure the PolSA is briefed with the appropriate intelligence and information in relation to each individual search and is fully informed of the purpose of the search and what the objectives are.

5. (Where it is evident that the search will be protracted, complex, or that a large area has to be searched, the SIO and PolSA may) wish to consider a number of other agencies or specialists, eg blood/cadaver dogs, underwater search unit, air support unit, height access or confined spaces teams etc.

6. Possibly also require other types of specialists, such as forensic geologists (including geophysicists, geochemists, hydrogeologists, geomorphologists etc) archaeologists, anthropologists, botanists, palynologists. Searches involving buried and concealed items in land, water, or engineered structures/infrastructure (eg houses, buildings, bridges, dams, roads, motorways, railways, utilities) may require expert advice from the NPIA helpdesk and/or the National Search Adviser (tel 0845 000 5463 or email soc@npia.pnn.police.uk).

Role of the PolSA

A PolSA will be responsible for:

PolSA search policy

On requesting a PolSA-led search it is essential that the SIO or delegated person from the management team meets the PolSA and CSM/CSI in order to discuss and agree the search policy and parameters.

The search policy should be recorded and include the following points:

Checklist—PolSA search policy


1. Some PolSAs and CSIs may be trained as forensic trackers and can be used to assist in identifying entry and escape routes to and from a scene, therefore concentrating resources on the best possible opportunity for evidence recovery. An environmental profiler such as a botanist or palynologist can also be used to identify vegetative disturbance.

2. Where the same officers search more than one premises or area there may be potential for cross-contamination. This must be catered for.

Case Study

Following an inner-city fatal stabbing, the main crime scene was forensically managed by the appointed CSM. The scene was clearly identified and marked out. Due to time constraints, public perception, and the sensitive location, the outer areas were searched in tandem under the management of a PolSA using a trained search team.

Commensurate with the intelligence given by the SIO and guidance from the CSM it allowed for two strategies to be adopted: (1) a search team wearing forensic suits and masks in the inner cordon on hands and knees with the expectation of finding small evidential items linking suspects; and (2) a search team at walking pace covering the larger outer cordoned area. This allowed the SIO/CSM to eliminate the larger area quickly.

It also helped the SIO deliver an efficient search by:

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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