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SIO Corner: Specialised Searches And National Search Advisor

This week we look at considerations needed when searching water, vehicles and vessels, and we also look at the role of the National Search Advisor

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).

Searches In Water

Where an underwater search is considered necessary, advice should be sought from the local police underwater search contractor (many forces have disbanded their police dive teams due to efficiency savings and either call upon nearby regional forces or have standing contracts with private companies).

Additionally, further advice and guidance should be sought from geologists, geomorphologists, or marine scientists with regard to water types and quality (eg saline or fresh), flow, discharge and recharge rates, tidal movements, current paths, bathymetry, sedimentation rates and flood plains, etc. Inland and offshore waters of the United Kingdom are covered by many regulatory bodies including the Water Ways Authority and the Environment Agency.

One resource increasingly useful to SIOs is the National Oceanography Centre that has historic and current water data and, more importantly, experts who can interpret it (they can be contacted via the NPIA SOC—tel. 0845 000 5463).

Underwater searches can present very difficult challenges due to the dynamic nature of the medium as in the case of a body it may have moved from its original entry point and may even have moved since its discovery and prior to recovery, here underwater video and photography can be of use in recording best evidence of the actual state of the submerged body prior to its examination on-shore where often in the process of recovery the body suffers further trauma and disarticulation. There are available a variety of geophysical and other instruments for searching beneath lakes, ponds, rivers, canals, and other water bodies.

Vehicle And Vessel Searching

In most investigations, vehicles and vessels are involved as either the crime scene itself or in transporting to and from the crime scene. UK police search teams have established methods to search systematically vehicles and vessels, which may be considered to be over and above what would be conventionally conducted by a crime scene examiner. Vehicles and vessels contain many voids which criminals can exploit to conceal evidential material.

The search strategy should aim to move proportionality from a noninvasive search, perhaps utilizing specialist detecting instruments (x-ray and police detector dogs like a drugs dog) to a more invasive search of voided areas. Where waterborne vessels are considered for search the UKBA maintain well-resourced and skilled search teams that can assist police investigations if required.

National Search Adviser

The National Search Adviser is a service provided by the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA), which has a remit to provide operational support to forces in relation to search matters.

These include:

The role includes acting as an independent adviser and facilitator to access specialists in relation to searches requiring geological (including geophysical, geochemical, hydrogeological, geomorphological), underwater and canine techniques.

More information about the National Search Adviser can be obtained from the NPIA website

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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