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SIO Corner: Policy Files

This week we look at the sensitive policy files, and the content and structure of policy files

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).

Sensitive Policy Files

As a general rule all members of the enquiry team should be made aware of any policy decisions and allowed access to the policy file. The contents of the SIO’s policy file should be shared with all members of the investigation so everyone understands the direction of the enquiry. This is much simpler if the policy decisions are quickly transferred onto HOLMES2, normally under the document reference of ‘D1’, making access to everyone that much easier.

However, there are occasions when more than one policy file may need to be kept. An additional ‘sensitive’ policy file may be required if there are confidential matters and/or material that needs to remain protected due to its sensitive nature (eg sourced from an informant/CHIS).

Examples include references to sensitive investigation techniques, covert tactics or intelligence (for which access has to be restricted to protect the integrity and likely success of the tactic and welfare of the source), and/or witness protection issues.

If this kind of policy file entry is required, the level of access must be determined by the SIO in order to safeguard the material effectively. For example, the first line in the sensitive file may state that only the SIO, deputy SIO, and office manager are permitted access to the contents of the sensitive file.

If using HOLMES2, restrictive access levels can be agreed and arranged through the HOLMES2 account manager. This is often an area that causes differences of opinion as to what should be restricted and whether it should be entered onto HOLMES2. It can become even more complicated if an independent review team examines the case.

A point worth considering is that sensitive material may have to be preserved for a long period of time, including after the investigation has ended. Sensitive documents, important as they are, often end up stored in ‘murder libraries’ (ie storage of archived case material) for which long-term access can be difficult to control.

Once preserved with restrictive markings on a computerized database such as HOLMES2, it becomes less susceptible to being lost and there is a clear audit trail of those who have accessed it.

Content and structure of policy files

The content of the policy file is a matter entirely at the SIO’s discretion, set against national guidelines. It is vital that the SIO, or an officer nominated by the SIO (eg a logist), systematically and wherever possible contemporaneously records all relevant policy decisions.

This means recording why various lines of enquiry were pursued or not pursued. The detailed recording of those decisions and the reasons for making them is critical, as is a reference to the information that was available and known at the time each decision was made (see earlier keypoint). It is difficult to be too prescriptive when providing guidelines on the construction of a good policy file, which is a core skill of an SIO, other than to comment on the requirement for the SIO to ensure that all decisions are recorded contemporaneously, accurately, and with sufficient explanatory reasons and rationale.

The MIRSAP manual (ACPO Centrex, 2005, 66–7 and 245) states that policy file entries should be written in a decision/ reason divided format with only one entry per page. There is also a stipulation that a separate file be maintained that contains a sequential log of events as the enquiry progresses.

The authors’ preference is to combine both requirements (decisions and log of events) in one book in a more open, free-text narrative format. This makes progress of the enquiry easier to follow and decisions remain in chronological order alongside events as they occur in sequence.

On a practical note, it is much simpler to complete one rather than two separate files/logs. More importantly, decisions can be made alongside developments as they occur which helps show the information that was available at the time the decision was made.

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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