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SIO Corner: Investigative Strategies

This week we focus on the importance of setting investigative strategies and their subsequent implementation

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).

Investigative Strategies

The SIO should develop and define what are known as ‘investigative strategies’, which should link in with the SIO’s main lines of enquiry list and explain how the MLOE are to be conducted. Investigative strategies comprise of carefully determined activities and tactics that produce a cohesive plan for delivering important elements of the investigation. Each strategy ‘title’ is a means of linking or grouping activities and setting a specific objective of importance under a particular theme or heading. Some examples include:

Investigative strategies should combine and contribute towards identifying the offender(s) and producing the necessary evidence. They should be fully discussed and agreed (eg at briefings) by the SIO and their management team and all enquiry staff (ie the team approach). It may be that expert advice has to be requested for some areas, such as interview advisers, media liaison officers, PolSA search co-ordinators, CSMs, etc. Clear objectives should be laid down, recorded, and agreed for each strategy and relayed to the teams.

For example, the objective for an intelligence strategy may be ‘to obtain all possible intelligence regarding rival criminal associates of the victim and establish who was responsible for the offence’.

Earlier it was stated that it is optional for the SIO to assign ownership for each strategy to an individual and/or team. Those with supervisory responsibility are usually best placed to take on any large or substantial tasks, including the deputy SIO. They can be allocated a key task and those given them should be fully briefed on the overall objectives of the strategy and how the SIO expects them to be completed.

For example, CCTV (passive data) collection and viewing if on a large scale can be allocated as a project to be managed by a nominated supervisor (eg Detective Inspector/
Sergeant with a dedicated team to undertake the task and provide regular updates to the SIO on progress). This decision should always be recorded in the policy file, together with terms of reference, agreed methods, parameters, staffing, and resource levels.

Each individual strategy will require a themed strategy meeting, if not several. These are usually chaired by the SIO (or deputy in their absence), with an agenda pre-determined and the contents minuted/recorded. The purpose of themed meetings is to assemble key stakeholders for the particular strategy to discuss, determine, and review the tactics, progress, and policy. For example, for the ‘communications data strategy’ the SIO and/or deputy may be present, plus the nominated Communications Liaison Officer(s) from the enquiry team and an authorized SPoC (single point of contact) plus an analyst.

Investigative strategies must remain under constant review to ensure they remain relevant, appropriate, and are making good progress. Investigations are extremely dynamic in nature and frequently require subtle changes in direction and priorities; therefore investigative strategies need to reflect and remain supportive of any such amendments or shifts.


It is not an admission of personal failure to change investigative direction in the light of new material’. Murder Investigation Manual (ACPO Centrex, 2006), 57

Implementation Of Investigative Strategies

Each strategy will contain investigative key actions and activities in order to fulfil and deliver the overall objectives. In order to do this, a list of individual ‘actions’ is compiled to provide specific detail and instructions about tactical activities and achieve the strategic aims.

Some examples follow:

Example 1

Nature of action

‘Arrange Level 2 house-to-house enquiries, report on exact areas to be covered as authorized by the SIO, and submit a plan of the details’ (H-2-H strategy). (The objective is to gather information and identify potential witnesses.)

Example 2

Nature of action

‘Arrange fingertip search of Scene (1) and obtain statements from officers involved’ (search strategy). (The objective is to maximize all potential forensic opportunities and ensure exhibit recovery.)

Example 3

Nature of action

‘Obtain itemized billing for mobile 07718 792651 believed used by suspect’s girlfriend N34 Scanlon for period 1.8.09– 15.9.09 covering all outgoing calls’ (telecommunications data strategy). (The objective is to consider call patterns to identify the contact telephone number of the suspect which can then be used to trace and arrest him.) In any large and complex investigative strategy, it is best to record all the key details in what is known as a ‘stand alone’ document, with all the relevant action numbers entered alongside each listed activity. This can be cross-referenced to an entry in the SIO’s policy file if necessary and will help enquiry teams understand the strategy and tactical details and enable everyone to keep track of progress.

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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