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SIO Corner: Record-Keeping

This week we look at the importance of record-keeping (Policy Files/Books/Decision Logs)

Record-Keeping (Policy Files/Books/Decision Logs)

Policy decisions made by the SIO will always be of the utmost importance in determining the outcome of an investigation. Some would say the professionalism of a major crime investigation can be measured against the quality of the policy file. It must be recognized, however, that a good policy file does not always guarantee a good investigation unless the contents of the file and direction of the investigation are properly communicated to the enquiry teams and staff on a regular basis. For this reason the SIO’s policy file should be regularly and openly used as part of the SIOs briefing content and method.

A policy file or ‘decision log’ is normally a bound book, A4 in size (and/or typed directly onto HOLMES2) that is numbered on the front, internally paginated, and labelled with the full details of the investigation or operation it refers to. It also includes details of the SIO and deputy and the date the enquiry commenced.

Each and every entry is sequentially numbered for ease of reference. Quite often these books are designed and printed specifically for this purpose with self-carbonating pages, instructions, and prompts contained within the first few pages.

Each and every one of the SIO’s policies and decisions must be comprehensively recorded in the file in a legible and durable format for audit purposes. This should be done contemporaneously wherever practicable, ideally at the SIO’s dictation by a logist working alongside the SIO.

All policy entries must be timed and dated (ie both when the decision was made and when the entry was made, if different), and signed by the person making the entry and the person making the decision (if not the SIO—the SIO should countersign to say they agree to the decision and have noted the policy file entry).

In practical terms the SIO will normally commence rough note taking and record early decisions in a ‘day book’ during the frantic first few hours of an incident which can then be transferred into the policy file at a more convenient time. However, it should be stressed that the SIO must start a policy file at the earliest opportunity to avoid any unhelpful backlog of material which will require updating and to ease enquiry handover purposes when there is an exchange of SIO (eg when handing over from on-call duties). Once a policy file has been started and brought up to date then the process of regular entries made directly into the policy file can be maintained.


A large number of important policy decisions will be made in the early stages of an investigation, which is why it is useful to nominate someone to record them on the SIO’s behalf so they can be recorded accurately and contemporaneously.

The content of a policy file/decision log is a matter which will ultimately be at the discretion of the SIO but should always accurately reflect each and every important strategic and tactical decision made during the course of an investigation. These include the main lines of enquiry (MLOE) and investigative strategies, for example:

The systematic recording of the SIO’s policies is one of the most important aspects of management for any major investigation. This is a vitally important skill all good SIOs have to acquire. Policy files should be skilfully constructed and maintained to serve as a vital record and audit trail of the rationale associated with each and every decision and outline the overall management strategy and tactics for a major crime investigation. The SIO does not have to work in isolation in deciding and recording policy.

Consultation can be had with the enquiry management team or other experts, with details of that consultation recorded in the policy file. At the conclusion of an enquiry the policy file must be retained and stored with the case papers, even if it has been typed and formally registered as a ‘document’ onto HOLMES2.


1. Policy files tend to play a particularly important role in helping any review team understand and reconstruct the important components of an investigation. Any omissions or lack of clarity and detail are likely to be spotted quickly. They also serve as a permanent point of reference for the SIO to rely upon in any subsequent court proceedings, public hearings, enquiries, or inquests. The recording of reasons for various lines of enquiry being pursued or not pursued is critical to enable SIOs to convincingly explain and support their decision making at any later stage.

2. All decisions in the policy file should identify the decision maker to support their integrity and act as a permanent audit trail afterwards. If someone other than the SIO makes a policy decision, the entry should be countersigned at an early stage by the SIO, to confirm that they agree with and have ratified the decision made on their behalf and that they have always been fully involved in and in control of the enquiry and decision-making process.

3. A policy file should be maintained on a regular basis throughout the life of the investigation, including up to the trial and beyond if an appeal is likely, or to a case review process if necessary.

Policy file entries may need to be cross-referenced to other standalone documents that are in existence, for example if there is a separate arrest strategy, or CCTV recovery and viewing strategy, or forensic strategy, which may be lengthy documents in their own right. It may be preferable to make reference to their existence rather than repeat the details in the file.

The documents themselves can be completed in a format similar to a policy entry, with the decision and accompanying reasons included, signed and dated by the SIO, then registered as a formal document onto the HOLMES2 database and cross-referenced against the appropriate entries in the SIO’s policy file.

The recording of such a cross-referencing process will provide reassurance to the SIO that the stand-alone strategy document has been registered onto HOLMES2 and also provide an easier means of locating any relevant strategy documents which they may wish to refer to or review during the investigation or any time thereafter.


There are three important elements to policy file decisions and entries. The first two relate to the decision itself and the reasoning behind that decision. The third is equally important and should be linked to the first two, ie a record of what information was known, available, and relied upon by the SIO at the precise time the decision was made.

Case study—The Stephen Lawrence Enquiry

‘The policy file contains nothing to show when or why the decision not to arrest was made. Nor does the policy file contain any reference to the establishment of surveillance, which the SIO indicated was to be part of the alternative way ahead. This in itself is a glaring omission’.

(Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, The Stephen Lawrence Enquiry (HMSO, 1999), ch 18).

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