[Scroll down for links to media coverage, commentary, background on Insp Brown & a link to his cached blog]
As I was turning in on Friday night, I glanced at twitter to see this, from legal commentator David Allen Green:
“Sorry to say goodbye to two outstanding police Twitter accounts, @MentalHealthCop and @iofiv (aka Nightjack).”
What a shocking turn of events. On checking the Mental Health Cop blog, that was offline too – locked private. The Mental Health Cop facebook page was also down. What had happened to take this award-winning blogger and prolific tweeter offline so suddenly?
If you’re not familiar with Mental Health Cop, he is West Midlands police inspector Michael Brown. His blog and twitter account, which focus on mental health problems from an operational policing perspective, have won several awards. Inspector Brown is a visiting lecturer at several universities, regularly presents at national conferences and gave expert evidence to the 2013 Adebowale Commission (the Independing Commission on Policing and Mental Health) (see here, here and here). He’s also a husband, father, bass player and rugby coach, and likes Hobnobs (no chocolate) and coffee (not tea). Not someone you’d expect to suddenly plunge into internet anonymity.
And yet, he had. And the explanation came later in the day, in the form of a statement from West Midlands police force: the Mental Health Cop twitter account had been suspending pending an investigation into alleged misuse. (The Birmingham Mail speculated that the twitter account had been suspended because Insp Brown had complained about cutbacks (you can read a cache of his last tweets here* and judge for yourself). Insp Brown’s most recent blog post (cached here*) was about police officers managing stress, where he talked about the pressures officers face, including restructuring and resource squeezes.)
Who would have thought a senior police officer – tasked with (amongst other things) ensuring officers on the ground obey the law – couldn’t be trusted to comply with a social media policy? And yet that was the decision taken by the corporate communications department.
The Mental Health Cop twitter account and blog had started off as personal accounts, produced by Insp Brown in his own time. At some stage, West Midlands police stepped in to give the twitter account its official seal of approval. At what stage did this endorsement turn to condemnation, and why?
I will expand this post when I have a moment later in the day or tomorrow but, for now, here are my tweets posted at the time, which set out some of my thoughts. In addition, below you will find links to all the mainstream media and commentary I have come across, so you can catch up fully. Please feel free to tweet or comment below with further links to be added.
- At this stage, Insp Brown remains offline, though he can be contacted through twitter (via @NathanConstable). Many people are tweeting their support for Michael and praising his work.
- Mary O’Hara of the Guardian is inviting people to tell her what you value about Mental Health Cop, for a piece she is writing over the weekend and filing on Monday.
- People are invited to contact West Midlands Police Force (@WMpolice), Assistant Chief Constable Garry Forsyth (@GarryForsythWMP) (who took the decision to take Mental Health Cop offline), or the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Bob Jones to let them know why Mental Health Cop should be back on twitter.
- Insp Brown will be being put through some form of investigation or internal disciplinary procedure by West Midlands Police Force which his boss Forsyth hopes will be resolved in a “matter of days not weeks”. Let’s hope so.
* Please note that, as at Monday 17th, Insp Brown’s final tweets (referring to the mental health of police and resourcing) and his 11th February blog post (on the mental health of police) no longer appear on search engine caches.
- Police statements and social media policies
- Some reactions on twitter
- Mainstream media stories
- Information on Insp Brown (including blog cache)
- Statement about suspension of ‘Mental Health Cop’ Twitter account – West Midlands Police (15 February) (@WMpolice)
West Midlands Police Force Policy Document – Social and Digital Media Policy – West Midlands Police social media policy (2012)
Guidelines on the Safe use of the Internet and Social Media by Police Officers and Police Staff – Association of Chief Police Officers
2. Some reactions on twitter:
- My tweets
- Tweets from others
- Responses from ACC Garry Forsyth
- Some responses from police tweeters
- A conversation with Inspector Gadget
3. Mainstream media:
Saturday 15th February:
- Acclaimed police mental health blogger has Twitter account suspended by force chiefs over ‘misuse’ – “Award-winning blogger @MentalHealthCop has been suspended from Twitter pending an investigation by West Midlands Police into how the account is used” – Daily Mirror newspaper (15 February)
- Police force suspends Twitter account of award-winning blogger ‘Mental Health Cop’ – “West Midlands police have suspended the acclaimed @mentalhealthcop Twitter account while it investigates ‘alleged misuse'” – Community Care by Andy McNicholl (@communitycare) (15 February)
- Police inspector who used Twitter to raise awareness of mental health issues has account suspended over claims of misuse – “Michael Brown had 16,700 followers, won awards for work in Mental Health. 39-year-old today took down account over unexplained claims of ‘misuse'” – Daily Mail newspaper (15 February)
- Twitter users call for return of award-winning Mental Health Cop blogger – “Calls are being made for the return of an award-winning mental health Twitter account, after it was unexpectedly suspended by West Midlands Police for alleged misuse.” – Digital Spy (15 February)
- West Midlands Police suspend ‘Mental Health Cop’ Twitter account – “West Midlands Police has released a statement on why the force suspended a Twitter account known as ‘Mental Health Cop'” – ITV news (15 February)
- West Midlands Police suspends officer’s Twitter account – “A police inspector who has won awards for his work as a mental health liaison officer is being investigated for alleged misuse of his Twitter account.” – BBC news (15 February)
Sunday 16th February:
- Mental Health Cop blogger’s twitter account is suspended – “West Midlands police say aspects of Insp Michael Brown’s social media communications are being investigated” – Guardian newspaper
- Birmingham cop has Twitter account suspended after criticising police cuts – “Award-winning @MentalHealthCop regularly posted about policing and mental health issues and was even praised by the Police and Crime Commissioner” – Birmingham Mail newspaper
Monday 17th February:
- Michael Brown Twitter account suspended: mental health blogger and inspector’s feed under investigation by West Midlands Police – “The Twitter account of a police inspector who has won awards for his mental-health work is being investigated for alleged misuse.” – Independent newspaper
Tuesday 18th February:
- Police ordered to hand over their Twitter passwords – “The police force that suspended an inspector’s Twitter account has required all its officers to hand over their social media passwords.” – Times newspaper, by Fiona Hamilton (£)
- Why the police silenced one of the best officers in Britain – “Rather than allowing a good man, who has helped thousands of people, openly debate a matter of public health and public importance, they shut him up, closed him down and threatened him with disciplinary proceedings.” – Spectator, by Nick Cohen
- Why we need the online presence of MentalHealthCop – “Mental illness and policing is an extremely sensitive area, and social media can play a positive role” – Guardian newspaper by Mary O’Hara
In addition, local radio station BBC WM has been running coverage of the story.
Saturday 15th February:
- Celtic Knot – “Dear @GarryForsythWMP (cc @NathanConstable) My questions about #MentalHealthCop account suspensions concern its proportionality and its wisdom.” (@celticknot)
- Mental Health Cop – “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.” – A Just Future Fair For All blog by John Harvey
- In praise of Mental Health Cop – “This morning I woke to the very surprising news that Mental Health Cop (also known as Inspector Michael Brown of the West Midlands Police) has closed down his blog, Twitter and Facebook page. I don’t know the reasons for this, and those who do know seem to be rather tight-lipped about it. I have noticed, however, that several other police tweeters have also closed their accounts.” – Not So Big Society blog by Phil Dore
- What you say may be taken down … – “The outpouring of respect for @MentalHealthCop this morning and the crossness many are expressing at the action of his bosses proves two things. One, that he did a very good job on Twitter. Two, that West Midlands Police has just pressed the reset button in many people’s minds in terms of its reputation …” – Sound Words blog (@soundwords)
Sunday 16th February:
- Come back soon Mental Health Cop – “I sincerely hope that this matter is resolved quickly and that Michael is able to resume his fantastic work very soon.” – Stuart Sorensen‘s blog
Monday 17th February:
- ‘Mental Health Cop’ has Twitter account suspended – “Award winning blogger is being investigated over way account was used, force confirms” Police Oracle, by Cliff Caswell
- Mental Health Cop’s twitter account suspended as police chiefs take fright – “West Midlands Police’s claim to be at the forefront of the social media revolution took a knock at the weekend when the force suspended the Twitter feed of an award-winning Inspector who specialises in writing about mental health issues” – The Chamberlain Files, by Paul Dale
Tuesday 18th February:
- @MentalHealthCop under restraint – “Certainly Toronto policing needs MentalHealthCop, and likely, a few other places too. Lets just say the whole world needs MentalHealthCop.” – Recovery Network Toronto
By Insp Brown:
- About me – Inspector Brown’s personal profile
- Mental Health Cop on twitter (cached)
- Mental Health Cop blog – now marked as “private”
- Mental Health Cop blog archive (cached)
- Why I tweet – Mental health policing specialist @mentalhealthcop says Twitter is a dialogue – Russell Webster’s blog – Insp Brown (January 2013)
- Managing stress – Insp Brown’s most recent blog post (11 February) (cached)
- Interview with Mind Awards winner @MentalHealthCop – The World of Mentalists blog, by Phil Dore (November 2012)
- Michael Brown: beyond the call of duty – “Observing people with mental health issues in custody encouraged a copper to start an award-winning blog” – Guardian newspaper profile by Mary O’Hara (December 2012)
- Michael Brown, winner of the Mark Hanson Digital Media award – “Michael Brown, winner of the Mark Hanson Digital Media Award at last year’s Mind Media Awards, chats to Carl Burkitt about his blog Mental Health Cop for our webwatch page in the Spring issue of Mind Membership News.” – Mind Charity (2012)
- The ‘mental health cop’ – ““I’ve had more than my fair share of policing and mental health incidents and I continue to get them daily on the frontline of British policing,” writes inspector Michael Brown in MentalHealthCop, his award-winning blog.” – NHS Choices