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SIO Corner: Actions Management (Continued)

This week we focus look at the use of action abbreviations, and early allocation and prioritizing of actions

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).

Action Abbreviations

The following abbreviations are used when creating actions and are recognized by the HOLMES2 database:

Prioritizing Actions

Priority levels should be assigned to all actions raised on major incidents. Each action should be assigned a high, medium, or low priority. The parameters for these priorities are set by the SIO and recorded in the SIO policy file. Suggested parameters are:

High priority (HP) - a fast-track action requiring immediate allocation and completion within a defined timeframe.
Medium priority (MP) - an action that directly relates to a main line of enquiry.
Low priority (LP) - an action that may not currently support a main line of enquiry and should not ordinarily be allocated as a matter of routine.

One practical point is that if all actions are raised as the same priority, eg low priority, this is not a very helpful way of enabling staff to understand what priority levels should be attached to their workloads. Conversely, there is no point in making all the actions high priority as this will add little value and confuse the whole prioritization process.

Any decisions and markers should, of course, be regularly and dynamically reviewed throughout the course and progress of the investigation.

Early Action Allocation And Recording

As a general rule most major investigations will require similar actions being raised and allocated in order to conduct early important enquiries. In order to speed up this process various templates have been devised that contain lists of generic actions used or considered in order to kick-start the enquiry. These are often referred to as the ‘first 50 [or similar amount] actions’.

They are pre-prepared in order to facilitate and ensure swift allocation and registering.

The sooner actions can be raised and allocated to teams, the easier and quicker it becomes to keep track of and manage the initial and subsequent investigation. Therefore any pre-determined list or system for having these readily to hand is a good aid for the SIO. In the initial stages HOLMES2 will usually take a while to become established and fully functional. It takes time to set up and arrange indexing and supervisory staff with requisite administrative procedures (and sometimes the necessary hardware) in place. Therefore an initial ‘paper action management system’ may have to suffice, and it is advisable to get this up and running as soon as possible. It also enables any subsequent backrecord conversion on HOLMES2 to be speedily arranged once it has been implemented.

In order to commence a quick and simple paper system, a pre-prepared matrix/table can be put into use almost as soon as the SIO takes charge of an investigation. Some initial actions can be automatically considered from a pre-determined list as initial tasks and aide memoires to save time. However, any other necessary actions can also be entered onto the matrix in numerical order to keep a record of what activities have been or need to be allocated. As the details of the actions are recorded together with whoever they have been allocated to, the list can be used to keep an ongoing log of all the investigative work that is being / has been allocated.


The SIO would be wise to appoint an action writer at the earliest opportunity to record and populate a matrix chronologically of all actions raised and allocated, when, and to whom. This will avoid duplication of tasks and hasten any back-record conversion process onto HOLMES2. The matrix will make any handover to another SIO much simpler and show what the initial SIO has done so far. An example of the matrix is shown in Appendix B.

Note: Unlike the matrix, ‘actions’ are produced onto standardized forms (MIR/5), examples of which are contained within the MIRSAP manual appendices.


The SIO must retain an awareness of actions that are being raised on their behalf by an action writer or incident room personnel. Increasing the number of actions increases workloads and, once raised, a decision has to be taken to do something with them. Therefore, only relevant and focused actions should be raised. Care must be taken to ensure the investigation is not becoming overloaded with tasks that are not going to take the enquiry any further forward. Once raised, however, the actions do not necessarily have to be allocated. They are there for if and when the need arises and so information does not have to be revisited continuously to see whether actions should be raised.

What this guards against is the duplication of tasks during the initial stages. Keeping track of what has been done, who by, when, where, and what still needs doing, can be an enormous task unless a system similar to this is implemented quickly. It can even be utilized while a (de)briefing session is in progress. A list of tasks can be populated as information is being received, which will save precious time at the end with actions ready to be allocated immediately. An example follows.

Example—Briefing—Action generation and prioritization

Mrs Davies from Number 12, Gould Street heard what she thought were raised voices coming from outside Number 8 (Gould Street). Her husband, Paul Davies, came home shortly afterwards and told her he had seen a young female with blonde hair standing crying at the end of the street. An ambulance attended and treated a male with head injuries who was lying on the footpath. An unknown hysterical female was trying to administer first aid to the victim before he was taken to hospital. The victim, we now know to be called Mark George, later died of his injuries.

Actions from this initial briefing can start being entered onto a matrix almost immediately.

1. TI TST from Mrs Davies, occupant of 12, Gould Street, who may have heard raised voices coming from outside Number 8. (MP)
2. TI TST from N3, Paul Davies, occupant of 12, Gould Street, re sighting of UF young female with blonde hair standing crying at end of the street. (MP)
3. TIE and consider suitability for significant witness status N4 U/F with blonde hair standing crying at the end of the street. (HP)
4. TI TST from ambulance crew who attended victim and consider recovery of any relevant forensic samples and notes made. (MP)
5. TIE and consider suitability for significant witness status hysterical U/F believed attempting to administer first aid to the victim. (HP)
6. Conduct background checks on victim N1 Mark George. (MP)
7. Arrange treating of victim’s body at hospital as a crime scene. (HP)
8. Arrange forensic recovery of all clothing and possessions taken from victim at hospital and obtain pre-transfusion blood sample, if applicable. (HP)
9. Obtain hospital medical notes for treatment of victim upon arrival. (LP)
10. Arrange inner and outer cordons for scene (1) believed to be on Gould Street where victim treated by an ambulance crew.(HP)
11. Conduct initial H-2-H enquiries in the immediate vicinity of scene (1) on Gould Street. (MP)
12. Appoint family liaison officer and fully brief on circumstances and arrange provision of immediate family support and notification of next of kin. (HP)
13. Debrief initial response staff and collection of all notes made. (HP)
14. Notify local policing commander and discuss command and control requirements for enquiry and community impact assessment. (MP)
15. Check for any precursor or linked incidents. (MP)
16. Trawl area for CCTV footage overlooking the scene (MP).
17. Obtain copy of the initial 999 call.

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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