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SIO Corner: Messages And Information

This week we focus on the importance of communication through messages and information within a Major Incident Room

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).

Messages and Information

In a complex enquiry there will be an influx of information to the incident room (and probably commencing even before the room is set up) that needs capturing, recording, and assessing. It should be stressed that the management of information is of paramount importance to the success of an investigation.

That one ‘golden nugget’ of information that may solve the case and save hours and hours of police time and effort may come from an early communication to the incident room. Therefore the SIO must ensure there are adequate arrangements in place ready to receive, capture, and effectively deal with all calls and information fed into the incident room. Otherwise valuable time will be lost or information may get overlooked, lost forever, enquiry progress will be compromised, or callers may become discouraged from recontacting. This must not be allowed to happen at any cost!

When people contact or call into the incident room or via public enquiry offices or communication control rooms, including officers with information, or even where an officer attached to the enquiry wants to submit information that cannot wait for an action writeup, this information needs to be recorded in the prescribed format on a message form. This will ensure that no information gets lost. It can then be assessed, prioritized, and logged onto HOLMES2.

Incident message forms are an instantly recognizable green, self-carbonating document (known as an MIR/6), which include all the details of the information, the originator, time, and date received, and what has been done with it. These are usually handwritten and should be quickly assessed and prioritized.

Once an incident room is up and running, set procedures are laid down as to how these messages are dealt with. They are the life-blood of any enquiry and the SIO should read and check them on a regular basis (daily as a minimum) as the carbonating copies allow each and every one to be forwarded directly to the SIO. An offender’s details may be emboldened within a message, so the incident room and SIO must be in a position to spot these quickly—they should not be left on a desk or in an in-tray until someone has had a chance to go through them.

KEY POINT - Hotline facility

Setting up a fixed incident room public enquiry contact telephone number needs to be arranged at the earliest opportunity. This is so that it can be given out externally to the public in media appeals, posters, etc and also internally to officers and staff within forces. This ‘hotline’ number must be supervised and managed correctly with someone familiar with the enquiry nominated to be available to listen to and/or take calls at all times (ie out-of-office hours).

The SIO cannot afford to miss that one vital call from someone who, if not spoken to immediately, may never call back. Arrangements must be made to have the hotline number constantly monitored, even out of hours when the incident room is closed. This can be facilitated by use of a call-forwarding facility to say a mobile phone carried by staff on a rotational basis. An added consideration is to have interpreters available if necessary to cater for any likely callers who may not speak English.

In the early stages the SIO should ensure there are adequate message forms available to record all the information coming in to the enquiry so it does not get mislaid and there is a clear audit trail and record of where it has come from, etc.


1. A good tip is to always carry a small stock of the green message forms for when an enquiry gets started.

2. The SIO should nominate someone to assess and prioritize all messages that are received if it is going to be some time before the incident room gets established.

3. There should be some set criteria for prioritizing information and making use of the high, medium, and low ratings to assist. These should be clearly displayed on the front of all messages, and/or with sticky brightly coloured labels or tags to make them stand out.

4. With highly significant information staff should have the confidence to bring it immediately to the attention of supervisors, who should quickly review it and where appropriate escalate it up to the SIO rather than waiting for it to go through the incident room process (emphasizing it should eventually still go through the room as well). The SIO cannot afford to wait any length of time for highly important information.

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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