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SIO Corner: Setting up an Incident Room

This week we look at the "beating heart" of an investigation and how to tailor an incident room to your specific enquiry

In this series, we preview sections of Blackstone's third edition of the Senior Investigating Officers' Handbook. This book provides invaluable insight about the essential skills and responsibilities that a senior investigating officer needs to manage serious crime investigations, from the initial response through to crime scene examination and investigative strategies. PoliceOracle.com readers can enjoy a 20 per cent discount on the book with our special offer code at the end of the article.

Professional management of an investigation is paramount to success. There are numerous examples of high-profile cases where this has proved unsuccessful. Lord Byford, for example, commented in the famous Yorkshire Ripper (Peter Sutcliffe) case that ‘the incident room became overwhelmed by a welter of information’, because everything had been stored on handwritten index cards.

Even following the introduction of HOLMES (Home Office Large Major Enquiry System), some enquiries struggled to cope simply due to the complexities of managing vast and rapid amounts of information in high volume cases.

Setting Up an Incident Room

A Major Incident Room (MIR) is the ‘beating heart’ of an investigation. It is the place where serious crime, joint and major incident investigations and some high-volume crime enquiries are managed and controlled. Getting one established quickly is important, particularly when a ‘crime in action’ (eg kidnapping or suspect hunt) type incident is in progress, which makes it even more importan to set up a MIR quickly in order to support and stabilise the administrative and decision-making functions. 

MIRs vary considerably and ideally there will be one available that is the right size with the right equipment and facilities. When deciding upon the location of a MIR a number of factors should be considered. The geographic sighting near to the area of investigation and the provision of suitable accommodation are two main concerns. The accommodation should include sufficient HOLMES terminals, briefings facilities, report writing area, car parking and secure exhibit storage. In more widespread investigations, use can be made of temporary satellite rooms, often in other force areas, fitted with HOLMES connection and ideally some visual (video) conferencing facilities.

In the early response phase, a makeshift room may have to be utilised until a suitable MIR is identified and available. If so, the management of any transfer and administrative movement needs to be skilfully managed so as not to cause too much disruption to the enquiry.

HOLMES, however, must not be allowed to dictate to an enquiry. It is there to assist in its smooth running and to improve effectiveness; management of information is paramount to the success of an investigation. At all times the SIO and their management team must adopt a disciplined approach and put into place monitoring and review mechanisms to check what work the system is producing. The SIO and investigation team should run the enquiry, not HOLMES.

One function of an investigation is to gather all the original material generated during the initial response phase. Often this involves staff no longer engaged on the enquiry and steps should be taken to collect it at the first (de)briefing held. It is vital to safeguard the integrity of this information, in particular first accounts from key witnesses and any significant comments made by suspects, together with any other ‘first hand’ material, such as emergency calls, fast track CCTV

footage, ANPR hits and continuity of exhibits. All this information needs to be collected, logged and processed through the MIR.

About the authors

Former Detective Superintendent Tony Cook was a career detective and senior investigating officer with Greater Manchester Police until he retired in 2009. He is currently a PIP Level 3 and 4 Regional SIO Advisor with the National Crime Agency.

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.

Blackstone's Senior Investigating Officers' Handbook is designed specifically to meet the quick-reference needs of any officer conducting a serious investigation. The only portable step-by-step guide to the processes and actions involved in the role of a Senior Investigating Officer (SIO), it explains all the relevant procedures and instructions integral to the position in a clear and accessible style.

Buy directly from the Oxford University Press website and enter the discount code ALPOLORH14 at the checkout to receive an exclusive 20% discount on the Senior Investigating Officers’ Handbook.

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