The Twitter account of an award-winning British police inspector well regarded for his work shedding light on mental health issues has been suspended.
West Midlands Police said “certain aspects” of Inspector Michael Brown’s communications posted to his social media account were being investigated.
While the force did not elaborate any further on the trigger for the move, Assistant Chief Constable Garry Forsyth said he could not imagine any organisation that would want employees to use official social media accounts “to be openly critical of it (their employers) – or indeed allow it”.
The officer’s @MentalHealthCop Twitter feed has disappeared since the suspension was announced yesterday.
Support in twitter was routed through the account of a friend of Brown's @NathanConstable.
In a statement, the force said: “Certain aspects of the officer’s communication are 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.”
Mr Brown is well-regarded by mental health experts – after setting up his online blog in 2011, it went on to win the national mental health charity Mind’s 2012 digital media award.
On his Twitter feed, which had about 16,000 followers, he has posted regularly about policing and mental health issues, clocking up thousands of posts.
An introduction to Mr Brown’s work and role at his online blog about.me/mentalhealthcop reads: “Police inspector, visiting lecturer and author of the MentalHealthCop blog. I have a particular interest in policing and mental health and have been formally commended by the chief constable for my work at a local, regional and national level.
“I gave expert evidence to the Independent Commission on Policing and Mental Health in 2013.”
The suspension of the account prompted the West Midlands police and crime commissioner to signal he would be raising the issue with the force’s chief constable.
Bob Jones stressed that although he would speak with Chris Sims, he had no role in individual professional standards-related inquiries and all such investigations had to be treated equally regardless of the individual’s public profile.
Commenting on his Twitter account, Mr Jones said he “always thought Michael’s tweets really good news & have often retweeted. Will raise with chief constable.”
Of the suspension, the force said it had a social media policy in place setting out how accounts should be used by its officers in both a personal and professional capacity.
In a statement, West Midlands Police said: “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.”
It went on: “Any breaches of force policy are taken extremely seriously and will be thoroughly and professionally investigated.”
Mr Forsyth, who is responsible for the force’s local policing and service improvement, added: “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 force said it actively encouraged officers of all ranks to use social media as a useful tool to update and inform the public.
Mr Forsyth, responding to public questions on the suspension of Mr Brown’s account, later said on Twitter: “We all understand the enormous value and benefit of his (Mr Brown’s) work but importantly can’t pre-empt and won’t pre judge investigation.”