This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Mental Health Cop

This is a very short blog to express my extreme disappointment at the suspension of the twitter account run by @MentalHealthCop. His twitter feed and associated blog (also inaccessible at present) have received international acclaim and he has been given awards by Mind and others. His contribution towards helping police officers and other public service professionals in how best to respond to people with mental health problems, especially in times of crisis is without compare. His blogs and tweets are what the internet was made for!

The suspension happened some time late yesterday as far as I know and resulted in a twitter storm of great concern and surprise.

I don't know why his twitter account has been suspended: the statement from his constabulary is now up on their West Midlands website here. The statement says:
Statement about suspension of ‘Mental Health Cop’ Twitter account
West Midlands Police has a force social media policy which details how channels, such as Twitter, should be used by officers in both an official and personal capacity. As a force, the Corporate Communications Department monitors all corporate use and should any inappropriate or operationally sensitive communication be identified, this will be taken up with the individual. In serious cases, the matter would be referred to the force’s Professional Standards Department. Recent monitoring has led to the suspension of an account operated by a response inspector whose focus was on mental health policing. Certain aspects of the officer’s communication is currently being investigated for alleged misuse of a force account and as such it would be inappropriate for the account to continue whilst further enquiries are made. Any breaches of force policy are taken extremely seriously and will be thoroughly and professionally investigated. ACC Garry Forsyth said: “Our policy is intended to enable officers and staff to communicate with our communities effectively to offer an insight into our work. “It does impose some restrictions but we are, of course, an organisation that holds sensitive information so we have to ensure that there is some restraint. I also can’t imagine any organisation that would want its employees to be openly critical of it - or indeed allow it. “The policy is not intended to discourage personal perspectives and I believe a human element assists with engagement."
West Midlands Police has been at the forefront of encouraging officers and staff to use social media to directly engage and communicate with the public for many years.
Twitter and blogs provide an opportunity for officers to communicate directly with the people we serve, giving them up-to-date information about policing in their area, and allowing the public to relate to the police. From neighbourhood PCSOs and PCs right through to Deputy Chief Constables, our social media accounts have featured everything from daily activity of local neighbourhood teams and arrests being made by response officers, to the work of contact centres, police dogs, the force helicopter, and the lighter side of a police officer’s day. Click here to view a copy of the force's Social and Digital Media Policy.
Saturday 15 February 2014
The officer concerned with making the decision has been on twitter this morning responding to the concerns being expressed by the growing number of police and police associated twitter accounts. You can read some of the exchanges here. I also recommend that you follow @GarryForsythWMP for updates on this matter.

I expect some sort of 'due process' must now ensue.

But I repeat: the blogs and tweets of @MentalHealthCop must continue. The resource that he has created is simply invaluable.


  1. DorsetRachel16/2/14 16:33

    There are two separate issues which must not to be conflated.

    One is the reason behind the suspension of Inspector Brown’s @MentalHealthCop twitter account (the award-winning blog was later taken down by Inspector Brown himself in order to protect its contents). I doubt that the concerns which lie behind suspension are straightforward. This investigative process will be dealt with by West Midlands’ Police’s internal disciplinary team. I cannot comment on this matter and nor should anyone who isn’t directly involved.

    The second issue is the public relations catastrophe that WMP have managed to create for themselves by a failure of communications which I have criticised publicly via Twitter, addressing my comments to both WMP @WMPolice and ACC Garry Forsyth @GarryForsythWMP, who was put in the unenviable position of having to rectify the situation on Saturday morning.

    I understand that the twitter account, with its 16000+ followers, was suspended on Friday lunchtime. Certainly, I noticed it had gone at 1315h. WMP didn’t issue a statement until 0913h on Saturday. In between, the information vacuum was filled by a Twitter frenzy, speculation leading to Chinese Whispers, a situation most unhelpful both to WMP and to Inspector Brown himself, whose position has almost certainly been misrepresented.

    WMP should have predicted this and, if they wanted to avoid it, they should have advised Inspector Brown to tweet that he was taking half-term off, which would have given them ten days to come to a decision. Or they should have had a statement ready prepared for immediate issue. Inspector Brown is in the business of social media. Social media is 24/7 and the response needs to be 24/7 too, because where there is a vacuum, Twitter will fill it, with fiction and fantasy if not with fact.

    But no: another case of a classic Friday afternoon syndrome, carelessness to the point of negligence. Yet again the police have failed to appreciate the nature of social media, have failed to control their own story. I fear that the subsequent speculation will have undesirable ramifications leading to a hardening of positions, an entrenching of views, the inevitable rise of hubris, all to the detriment of Inspector Brown and the many, many people – police, lawyers, health and social care professionals and the interested public – who have grown to rely on his insight, his learning and his unrivalled expertise.

  2. Both excellent pieces. Thank you for taking the time to make these points that are echoed by so many

  3. davidbfpo16/2/14 19:32

    Jon, Rachel & others,

    I would draw your attention to a story in the Birmingham Evening Mail, published this afternoon (16th), which has a screen picture of several Tweets and cites one with a direct critique - which I cite: 'Yep - on NIGHTS now and have just had a right old time trying to resource everything going off. The worst thing about it all, is that it’s mostly a result of really poor choices, that didn’t need to be made. Costing lives and billions'.

    Link to story:

    West Midlands Police (WMP) have stated the investigation was prompted by internal monitoring, not an external complaint.

    The same story cites WMP ACC Forsyth saying: Our policy is intended to enable officers and staff to communicate with our communities effectively to offer an insight into our work. It does impose some restrictions but we are, of course, an organisation that holds sensitive information so we have to ensure that there is some restraint. I also can’t imagine any organisation that would want its employees to be openly critical of it - or indeed allow it. The policy is not intended to discourage personal perspectives and I believe a human element assists with engagement'.

    The key point there is: ' I also can’t imagine any organisation that would want its employees to be openly critical of it - or indeed allow it'.

    Personally I find this statement simply follows the intensity of WMP pursuing first and foremost reputation management. Secondly maintaining that the legend that "All is well" even when policing faces cuts. ACC Forsyth is following WMP's Social Media policy and presumably ACPO's guidance, both of which are available on-line.

    Sadly it appears that Inspector Brown now faces the James Patrick experience, a Met Police officer who went public on his experiences using information in the public domain.

    This does not bode well for the return of Inspector Brown on a WMP Twitter account or his personal blogging.

    I note too that ACC Forsyth does not have responsibility for Professional Standards Department (PSD), so is probably commenting as the duty ACC. His responsibilities are outlined by WMP on:

    The ACC responsible for PSD, Gary Cann, appears not to have a WMP Twitter account.

  4. The local newspaper has a story at:

  5. I am curious as to how a screen shot of some of @MentalHealthCop's tweets have got into the newspapers.

    Thanks for all comments above & associated tweets.

    1. Anonymous17/2/14 08:24

      Probably from a cached copy of his twitter see yet mysteriously the tweets mentioned in paper are no longer there.

  6. Having read the Birmingham Evening Mail piece I share Jon's curiosity about who screenshotted the tweets and why and how the BEM got hold of them but also how the paper has come to the conclusion that the comments relate to police cuts when, as an ex-practitioner it seems clear to me that the comment about "poor choices" relates to the choices that the public make and the consequences thereof and the impact of those poor choices on the always-limited resources of public services (note that the comments were made in conversation with a paramedic). As a side-note, I am also curious about how the BEM has reached the conclusion that these tweets are the reason for the suspension of MHC's twitter account, when at the time of writing no reason for the decision has been made public. As I said previously, an information vacuum leads inevitably to dangerous assumptions and wild speculation.

    1. You are absolutely correct Rachel: we do not know the reason and though it is tempting to speculate (as the BEM have done), we must be careful not to. There is a due process to happen.

      But this not covering WMP in glory at the moment, and reference this and your earlier comment, there might have been better ways to address whatever lapse of social media etiquette that @MentalHealthCop is meant to have committed, than the current approach.

      Ho hum...

    2. My final word on this is to say that it is evident from the numerous people clamouring for its return that Inspector Brown's blog was providing a vital service to police and other professionals dealing with mental health. A cursory look at, amongst others, @TheCustodySgt's twitter feed over the weekend shows that its absence has left a gaping chasm. It is something of an indictment on police forces around the country and on the College of Policing (and its predecessor, the NPIA) that it is has been left to an Inspector (who, I understand, has worked largely in his own time) to provide an information resource of such value. I would urge the College of Policing to remedy this situation as soon as possible..