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An open letter to Gary Forsyth

Garry Forsyth is a senior officer in West Midlands Police – an ACC apparently.  His Twitter feed is @GarryForsythWMP

He’s been all over my Twitter feed this morning as a result of WMP’s decision to investigate an officer who blogged and tweeted about the intersection between mental health issues and police work. You can read about Inspector Michael Brown here.

If you’ve read this far Garry, don’t worry. I’m not going to ask you to discuss the issues behind the investigation, or anything prejudicial. I think you’re doing a good job so far responding on social media, and I’m impressed.

The question I would ask is more exploratory. Do you think these conversations about topics like mental health and policing will not continue to happen even if you prohibit officers from having them on social media?

Conversations about work, and mental health, or work and despair, or work and controversy, always happen. You can’t stop them, because we’re people. We’re human. Expecting us not to talk is expecting us not to be human.

If you say police officers may not have those conversations on Twitter or Facebook you are going to be perceived as saying saying that it’s OK to have those conversations in the pub or at the dinner party, but not with all your customers. That is an unfortunate image to create, that there are privileged areas where conversations can happen, and unprivileged areas where the rest of us are not allowed to be party to the truths some police officers will want to tell us.

I know there may be issues around confidentiality and tone that you may wish to control – I would hope, if that’s the case, you do it via a confidentiality and tone policy, not a social media policy. The rules on confidentiality and tone should be the same whether you’re on social media or in the golf club bar with the editor of the local paper or the Chief Exec of your local council.

So here’s a tip from a critical friend. Ditch your social media policy, and replace it with a policy on confidentiality and tone – and use it to remind your colleagues that even geo-location data could breach confidentiality. Use it positively, to tell your colleagues how you want them to engage with all their customers, and trust them to communicate professionally and with the obvious love and care some of them have for the communities they serve.

Incidentally, I don’t know Michael Brown, but I’ll say this. Judging by the feedback and obvious love and respect for him online, you have a chance to create a new model for how you deal with issues here. If he’s breached your social media policy ask yourself this – does this have to be a disciplinary issue, or is it an issue that can be dealt with by coaching – I believe your disciplinary code allows for words of advice to be offered to an officer. That’s another piece of archaic language you could easily ditch, and replace it with what it is – coaching. Say to your officers, all of them, that you will consider every mistake, every breach, and decide if it’s a coaching issue or a disciplinary issue, and you may well give your service a human face for the twenty first century. Coaching isn’t the easy option – being required to agree goals and work towards them as part of a process of improvement is far tougher than a slap on the wrist, in my opinion.

So there you are Garry, some free advice.Good luck…


One comment on “An open letter to Gary Forsyth

  1. Zarathustra
    February 15, 2014

    I don’t know the reasons why MHC has gone dark, but I’ve had the pleasure of conversing with him many times online, and on one occasion in person. He’s a cop who found himself dealing with mental health issues on a daily basis, as the police do, without much training about mental health. He therefore took it on himself to learn as much as possible about the field, and transmit that knowledge back to his colleagues. Until I read his blog I’d never thought of the police as a mental health service, but have now learned that there’s a pretty large intersection there.

    Although I was initially very concerned when his sites disappeared, the tweets coming from ACC Forsyth suggest that it’s something they’re trying to resolve quickly and sensibly. I hope this means that the good inspector will be back online soon.

    This is entirely speculation on my part, but one thing I’ve noticed is that Inspector Brown spends a lot of his time pointing out how ongoing cutbacks to mental health and social services are causing plenty of people to fall into crisis. With the safety nets snipped away, they just keep falling until they land in the arms of the only people left to respond, which is the police. For that reason it wouldn’t be a surprise if it eventually transpires that any complaint wasn’t from a police colleague but from the NHS or local authority objecting that his blogging was making them look bad.

    Though I should stress that’s only a hypothesis on my part and I have no evidence either for or against it.


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This entry was posted on February 15, 2014 by in Uncategorized.

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