In considering the process of criminal investigation, the effective investigation of crime is a driver of public confidence. All police forces know that, right? Of course they do! And, every aspiring police promotion candidate for the Sergeant and Inspector ranks knows it too, am I right? 


How do I know? Because I get to ask loads of aspiring police promotion candidates questions about the investigative process, usually during one-to-one supportive conversations or whilst delivering promotion masterclasses. It’s an aspect of preparation for police promotion opportunities which often reveals knowledge gaps. Once highlighted, these can be filled quickly, so officers aiming to navigate promotion selection processes can arrive at the desired successful outcome. As a former Detective Inspector, this subject is of course a key interest for me!

“Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.” – Charles Dickens

Setting and Inspecting Standards

I encourage aspiring promotion candidates to think of a very simple description for the Sergeant’s role:

To set, communicate and reinforce standards in the organisation.

It’s easy to remember and sits perfectly with expectations of effective supervision and management for criminal investigations. In turn, the role of Inspector is to inspect standards. This includes monitoring the progress and quality of investigations. You’ll find more in-depth insights and descriptions of the Sergeant and Inspecting roles in my downloadable digital promotion toolkits.

The investigative process serves as a means to assess standards against expectations, to track progress, inform decision making for allocating necessary resources, or finalising an investigation.

So what is the process of criminal investigation? That’s a great question, because whilst many police officers and staff may follow an investigative process every day, when I ask that question, it reveals many don’t know this process and/or have never seen all of the steps together. That’s ok for some but if it’s a knowledge gap for you, then it’s probably going to be more difficult to talk meaningfully about how you will personally manage or supervise investigations or team performance as a newly promoted leader. Particularly at times whereby PEEL inspections are revealing investigations as a common weak point for forces to improve.

So where can the process be found?

Sergeant Inspector promotion guide

The College of Policing: APP

To be clear, the College of Policing’s website is where police and the public will find information on Authorised Professional Practice (APP) within policing. This includes the crime investigation process. 

When you see the investigation process and its separate stages, it is easy to recognise that right before your eyes, laid out in steps, is the process you frequently follow as an investigator. However, few individuals (including many aspiring promotion candidates!) seem to know about the process, know what it looks like as a whole, or realise that every stage of the process is what they will be managing and supervising once those stripes or pips are on shoulders. This is not unusual from my perspective, as it is also the case with briefing models and other helpful information, which can also be found in APP.

That said, aspiring promotion candidates very much appreciate being directed or signposted to APP. That’s because what follows on from filling knowledge gaps are often supportive discussions about learning to love the CVF, referring to APP within promotion applications and/or interview responses, to score highly against behaviours assessed in promotion boards and selection processes.

Ye Olde Investigation Process

Stages of investigation for police Sergeants and Inspectors

Good practice concerning crime investigation processes was previously called ‘Core Investigative Doctrine’. Within the Doctrine, the process of investigation was known as the ‘Seven Stages of Investigation’. I summarise in my bespoke summary infographic above, which highlights the investigative and evidential evaluation.  

You’ll note evaluation appears twice in the process, which is why some people queried the seven stages description. It’s actually eight stages, if you’re counting the two evaluation stages; both are key points for supervisors, managers and decision makers in investigations.

As a quick potted history, Core Investigative Doctrine is the historical ‘body of knowledge’ for investigative good practice. It was originally contained as an easy reference, handy manual for practitioners. This was reviewed, renamed and placed online by the College of Policing as APP, for access by investigators and the public alike. Upon review, the name of investigation process was changed from ‘The 7 Stages of Investigation’ to ‘The Investigative Process’. Other than being rebranded as ‘The Process of Investigation’, the seven stages have essentially remained unchanged since the original Core Investigative Doctrine. 

That was until very recently, when the College invited police detectives to become involved with updating the investigation process for the future. That consultation inspired me to write this blog and record the free video below, following on from my 2021 blog, Investigating the Future. More of that later…

For now, let’s take a look at the investigation process that has served policing well for over quarter of a century and is still doing so today. I’ve summarised the key elements of the process in the following handy table:

Stages of police investigation
Stages of police investigation

Investigators Assemble!

Detective police officer

“If you judge, investigate.” – Seneca 

Not quite on the scale of the Marvel superhero films, but “Investigators Assemble” is the current rallying call from the College of Policing to UK police investigators and practitioners. The College have recently published a consultation document seeking your feedback on proposed changes to both the investigative process and managing investigations. This offers you a valuable opportunity, as an experienced investigator, aspiring promotion candidate, or simply as part of your professional CPD.

Here’s an overview of the new draft process for APP, on which the College are seeking your input:

College Police Investigation Process

As an aspiring promotion candidate and police leader, this consultation offers you an opportunity to raise your awareness around this aspect of first and second line supervision. It’s entirely relevant, topical and current to your role in overseeing investigations, leading teams, and managing performance. All of these subjects of course are potential questions you may face in promotion interviews or scenarios for presentation to the Board. For example, consider the following forward-facing question, which could be aligned to the CVF value of Public Service:

“How will you help improve the force’s investigation of crime and outcomes for victims?”

Investigations are also an aspect frequently raised in force PEEL inspection reports. If you’ve been following my YouTube PEEL series and posts on social media, you may have noticed investigation knowledge (or lack of it) is often highlighted as an ‘Area for improvement’ for forces. For example, see my summary of British Transport Police’s inspection report below:

Police PEEL inspection scores by theme

Also, take a look at the graphic above, whereby I’ve summarised the average scores of the 31 forces reported so far across the PEEL inspection themes. Crime investigation is often graded as ‘Inadequate’ or ‘Requires Improvement’, and so on my scoring system of 0-4 features fairly low at 1.7. Given this, and the lack of recognition of its importance amongst aspiring promotion candidates, I would encourage you to include the process of investigation as part of effective preparation.  

With all this considered, what are your thoughts on the College’s draft investigative process shown earlier? Is it fit for the future?  Why not let the College’s review team know your thoughts? Your ideas and contributions might well help serve policing and the public for decades to come, just as the previous process has done. 

Some notable changes I can see from the College’s draft process in the graphic above include:

  1. The light blue shaded boxes of disclosure, supervision, and victim care/support run through the whole process from instigation to conclusion, thereby making these elements more explicit.
  2. In the main steps of the new investigation process, ‘investigative supervision’ is an addition and precedes ‘investigative evaluation’. This clarifies expectations that review of initial actions should have visibility or evidence of supervisory oversight.
  3. In the draft, ‘Court’ is not the final stage shown for the investigative process. ‘Criminal Justice Outcomes’ is now featured, recognising other outcomes than court alone. 

An observation I would make and encourage aspiring leaders to register, is that ‘investigative evaluation’ and ‘evidential evaluation’ should be highlighted in a different colour. This would recognise, emphasise and clarify expectations that these two stages in the investigative process are important decision-making points. I.e.:

Decision: Cease further investigation (e.g. Early effective action has established there are no witnesses, no forensics, no further enquiries. Finalise/No further action), or

Decision: Proceed with the investigation (e.g. Update/review investigation plan)

Interview Questions for Aspiring Police Leaders

Unsuccessful interview candidates sometimes question the relevance of board questions. But officers committed to effective preparation for promotion opportunities can connect the dots more easily and understand areas where potential questions may come from. For example, if your force inspection report has highlighted a need to improve aspects of crime investigation (a common finding!), it should be no surprise that a potential board question might be: 

As a newly promoted leader, how will you manage your team’s performance and support your people to get the best from them? 

That’s a gift of a question for well-prepared candidates… make sure that’s you! You can find a complete bank of practice interview questions, aligned to the CVF, in my Interview Success guide (plus examples of answers in my Sergeant and Inspector / Chief Inspector evidence guides).

Police interview questions for promotion

I have alluded to a lack of awareness amongst many promotion candidates of the importance of the investigative process, in terms of supervising and managing investigations. On this point, in my podcast interview with Chief Constable Lee Freeman KPM of Humberside Police, he clearly cites the standards of first- and second-line supervision as underpinning the culture of the organisation. Emphasis and focus around this has helped him turn Humberside Police around from worst to best performing force in the country. 

“What defines your culture, your wellbeing, and your performance is the quality of your first line supervision and management.” – Lee Freeman KPM

In the interview he sets out his ‘high support, high challenge’ expectations for 1st and 2nd line leaders in managing the investigative process; especially initial investigation, early effective action and victim focus. 

If you were in any doubt of the importance of this topic, I hope the interview and this wider blog have provided some food for thought and reflection. As a reminder, here’s a link where you can download the College of Policing Consultation document. You might also like to listen to my more in-depth podcast I recorded just before the consultation was published…

Your Future

“Just one more thing…” – Columbo

I’ve covered history via Core Investigation Doctrine, and the present with the College of Policing consultation, but investigating crime and progressing your career are both future focused. 

If you are looking to deliver, support and inspire within policing and secure for yourself a formal leadership position, you are volunteering to lead in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. 

With that in mind, I encourage you to think more widely and to check out this blog about investigating the future; after all, it’s where we’re all headed!

I hope you have found this content helpful and wherever you are on your promotion journey, I wish you the very best. If you want to start effective promotion preparation, why not download your personal superbriefing to it the ground running today?

Kind Regards, Steve

Want to go further right now? Hit the ground running with your promotion preparation. Get your personal digital promotion toolkit, and/or my Police Promotion Masterclass. You can also contact me to arrange personal coaching support. If you first want to explore completely free content, I have a collection of videoseGuides, and podcast.

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