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SIO Corner: Critical Incidents

This week we look at how and when an incident can be deemed critical

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 this article.

This term "critical incident" is used to describe any incident where police action may have an impact on confidence in the police on the part of the victim, their relatives or the wider community. There are very few murders or serious crimes that will not fall into the category of a critical incident. Nevertheless early recognition and declaration as such will ensure that the correct command and control procedures are quickly activated to assist the SIO and deal with the incident effectively.

Critical incidents cover a wide range of possibilities and are, however, not just restricted to murders. Other incidents, such as the arrest of a group of asylum seekers, or an assault of a member of the public by a police officer captured on CCTV, may be included. Critical incidents can often be the consequences of major incidents. The event itself would be dealt with operationally, using the policy, procedures and tactics laid down for each type of incident.

A critical incident response incorporates this but also enables an SIO to deal with all the other aspects of the incident and the context in which it occurs. Critical incident tactical options help in deciding on and addressing broader family and community issues, dealing with long-term consequences and making clear who is responsible for what.

The decision to declare a critical incident can take place at any time during the various phases of the investigation being dealt with. This identification may occur as early as the first telephone contact received by a call taker. It may also be applicable and appropriate when the incident is being attended either by the initial officer or later by an SIO.

Deeming an incident as "critical" requires a large application of common sense and sound professional judgement. If it is decided that this term should apply, then the circumstances should be given special priority and consideration in terms of how they are then managed and subsequently controlled. "Effectiveness" in this context means the measure of professionalism, competence and integrity in the initial response - for example if a victim’s family are aggrieved at the level of family liaison support they have received.

The term "significant impact" can be felt by individuals, the family and/or community, and the SIO must make a decision as to whether to declare a critical incident on this basis. "Confidence" refers to any long-term effects on police relations that may have resulted from the incident.

It may be that as an investigation develops and more information becomes available, the decision to deem an incident "critical" will need to be reviewed and monitored continually. An example is when community confidence in the police response or the incident itself drops and becomes critical as the investigation develops.

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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