The role of the Detective Chief Inspector (or equivalent) is the most widely used as the main character in crime fiction. Telling the story from this perspective allows the writer access into the inner workings of a police department and the inside scoop as an investigation progresses.
This character is in a position of power but still has the higher ranks to please; Detective Superintendents, Detective Chief Superintendents and Commissioners all rank above a DCI.
Just one Senior Investigating Officer is assigned to every homicide case, which will be undertaken by at least the rank of DCI, dependant on the severity of the crime. In the USA I guess this rank would place somewhere between a Sergeant and a Lieutenant.
This guide gives you a run down on the role of the DCI in a murder investigation, training requirements and experience, and some examples for you to research.
The ultimate aim of the DCI is to get a case to court in order to get justice for the victim.
The path to justice involves many key tasks and responsibilities.
Your DCI will:
- Lead the investigation and identify the most probable lines of enquiry
- Line manage a team of officers
- Assign specific roles to team members
- Prioritise team tasks
Myth buster: a large portion of the DCI’s role is managerial, and so they do not tend to carry out witness and suspect interviews, for example. This would be done by a lower rank, such as a Detective Constable.
- Liaise with the police Comms team to organise press conferences and media campaigns where required (e.g. social media or public appeals)
- Liaise with the Crown Prosecution Service – meeting CPS lawyers who are allocated to prosecute on behalf of the police
- Attend case conferences
- Brief the team throughout a case
- Report case findings to the Detective Superintendent and request sign-off for covert operations
- Set the divisional budget for the year (sometimes done by a Superintendent)
- Attend the primary crime scene, working with the Crime Scene Coordinator to agree a plan of action
Myth buster: the DCI doesn’t always attend a crime scene straight away – advances in video/photographic technology mean there is no pressing need to get to the scene as first priority.
As with most other office hierarchies, you will find more of your homicide team prop up the lower ranks than the positions of power. Make sure your fictional team reflect this: Your DCI does not work in isolation.
Between £50-60,000 per year.
DCIs work long hours, particularly at the beginning of a new case; a normal working day could be 10 hours or more.
Training and Experience
- 2 years + as a uniformed officer
- 2 years + development within the Crime Investigators Development Programme with the CID
- Previous roles: Detective Constable, Detective Sergeant, Detective Inspector
The prefix ‘Detective’ means the individual is a fully trained member of the CID – the Crime Investigation Department.
The DCI wears plain clothes rather than a uniform showing rank insignia.
Minimal kit is required at a scene by the DCI as they do not carry out forensic tasks: think badge, ID, notebook.
Read Kevin N. Robinson’s ‘7 things your lead detective should have before they start a murder investigation’ for further info!
Myth buster: An SIO such as your DCI entering a crime scene is subject to the same rules as everyone else entering the scene of a murder: they will wear protective clothing and footwear.
Examples in Fiction: UK TV
- DCI Jane Tennison – Prime Suspect
- DCI John Luther – Luther
- DCI Tom Barnaby – Midsomer Murders
- DCI Frank Burnside – The Bill
- DCI Jim Taggart – Taggart
Some thoughts for your story…
- What does your character wear to the office, and does their style reflect personality in some way?
- Do they ‘power dress’?
- What kind of working relationship does the DCI have with those in higher ranks, and those they manage?
- Does this relationship affect how your DCI assigns tasks?
- Who makes up your homicide team and what do they think of your DCI personally and professionally?
Salary – this is a pretty decent salary given that many DCIs in fiction are painted as broke or struggling for cash. If this is the case, does your characters’ salary get spent on a drug habit, gambling or other addiction?
‘There’s always time for one more pint’ Chief Inspector Morse
Government cuts? – It’s worth mentioning that the UK police force are always under threat of cuts. There have been talks recently of reducing the number of ranks within a CID branch: make sure you check which ranks are in force at the time you are writing. Which ranks existed in the 80s? 90s?
If you’re worried about getting your facts right, it could be worth investing in an e-book or two on how to describe the police in fiction.
I’d recommend A Writer’s Guide to Senior Investigating Police Officers in the UK by Kevin N. Robinson for those of you writing in the UK!
Over to you
Can you tell me your favourite fictional DCI, perhaps using the list I provided above? What do you like most and least about them?