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SIO Corner: Initial media management

This week we look at how to best deal with the media at major or serious crime scenes

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.

Initial media management

Not every encounter with the media occurs at major or serious crime scenes, but this is the place where things usually go badly wrong if not brought quickly under control. An appreciation of the likely risks and complications is important, particularly for first responders who have initial command and control.

The media tend to be notified quickly when serious incidents occur and chances are they will descend on crime or incident scenes soon after. They could already be present if reporting on another linked event nearby. Competitive and forceful reporters present awkward distractions for responding officers, especially if TV crews, bulky vehicles and technical equipment block or commandeer valuable space and obstruct access and egress routes.

Reporters invariably try to get as close as possible for the best shots and hunt around seeking witnesses and information. They will try and record all events and activities at the scene plus casualties, victims, crime scene evidence, or even fatalities.

In order to manage and control such a situation, secure cordons must be quickly put in place around scenes to protect them. This must be done in order to preserve and protect the integrity of the scene and keep the public and media out. This may include the use of large portable screens to keep certain items and activities out of the line of sight (e.g victims).

The media can be effectively managed through a designated Media Liaison officer (MLO, or similar title) who should attend and take control by directing them to an agreed location suitably positioned away from important police activities. This is where and how they are best managed in order to be regularly updated with information that satisfies their needs to inform the viewing and listening public.

It is the role of an incident commander and/or SIO to assume responsibility for making strategic or tactical decisions involving the media. However, some­times more junior staff may be approached and offered the chance to speak to a reporter or provide impromptu interviews. This must be prevented and/or refused unless undertaken with full permission and prior approval.

Media briefing points

Despite cordons, media crews still attempt to get into the best vantage points to take shots of scenes and surrounding activities. Media representatives come from a wide variety of agencies and although the majority may be well known and trusted, others from less well-known news agencies must be treated with caution. If there is more than one scene, this will compound matters further and they will be even more difficult to control.

This is normally sited where journalists can still see some amount of police activity, provided it does not impact on the investigation and serves as a place where enquiries can be fielded and formal briefings held. MLO’s and/or the incident commander/ SIO should consult with the media to negotiate with them if it is felt that any distressing images have been obtained and may be published or broadcast. 

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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