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West Midlands Police restore Mental Health Cop Twitter feed after six-day ban

West Midlands Police restore Mental Health Cop Twitter feed after six-day ban

🕔19.Feb 2014

West Midlands Police have reinstated the @MentalHealthCop Twitter account six days after the blog was taken down following claims that the force’s social and digital media policy was breached.

Assistant Chief Constable Garry Forsyth confirmed that Inspector Michael Brown has been told he can resume regular posts about policing and mental health issues.

It’s understood Inspector Brown accepted “informal advice” following an internal investigation.

Mr Forsyth suspended the account after Inspector Brown’s tweets were deemed to be critical of the West Midlands force by concentrating on ‘resource issues’.

ACC Forsyth insisted the force would continue to use social media to communicate.

He added: “As with any organisation which communicates with the public, we have to ensure that there are parameters around the way information is shared, particular when that information can be sensitive.

“It would not be fair or proportionate to release any further detail of this investigation.”

The decision to reinstate @MentalHealthCop follows outspoken support for Inspector Brown from West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Bob Jones.

Mr Jones said he believed that if police officers could be trusted to use a truncheon, they could be trusted to have a Twitter account.

The issue has put the spotlight on the force’s developing relationship with social media.

West Midlands police officers are encouraged to communicate with the public through mediums like Twitter and Facebook, with Commissioner Jones leading the way in backing the use of social media.

However, the climate of openness is in stark contrast to traditional police policies on news management based on centralised and heavily controlled press offices overseen by uniformed officers rather than civilians.

Ironically, ACC Forsyth spent a large part of last weekend using his own Twitter account to defend his decision to suspend Inspector Brown’s Twitter account, stating that he had thought long and hard before taking action.

Commissioner Jones said he had great respect for Inspector Brown’s Twitter blog, which has 16,000 followers, and he believed it was “a valuable resource “.

Mr Jones stressed that as Commissioner he could play no part in overseeing disciplinary procedures against police officers. However, he again stressed his support for the role that social media can play in helping police to get their message across.

Mr Jones said: “We are one of the pioneers in this area. If you can trust a police officer with a truncheon, you can trust them with a Twitter account.”

He added that he had received assurances from senior police chiefs that the reasons for suspending Inspector Brown’s account and launching an investigation were valid.

He accepted that West Midlands Police would “have to be a little more careful than other Twitter users” about social media particularly when commenting on matters that might come before the courts.

Inspector Brown is believed to have fallen foul of the West Midlands Police social and digital media policy by using Twitter to highlight a lack of resources, which he claimed was “costing lives and billions”. There may also have been issues with direct messages sent through the account.

In a statement, ACC 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.”

Photo credit: iStock via Crain’s New York Business

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