Inspector Michael Brown (BMus Music, 1996; MA Music, 1998) may not play the drums as he once did whilst studying at Birmingham, but, with his award-winning Mental Health Cop blog, he still does so symbolically as a champion for a greater understanding of mental health issues in policing and the justice system.
How did you become a police officer?
I came to the University in 1993 and studied Music, first as an undergraduate and then on a part-time MA. While I did think about the idea of a career in performing or teaching music, I had always wanted to be a police officer, and I joined the West Midlands Police in 1998.
What does your current position involve?
I’m the mental health advisor to the College of Policing, helping produce professional guidelines and training packages on all subjects in policing. There have been various reports over the past four or five years that have said the police force needs to look at the guidance on offer to officers around this area. I’m the first person to hold this particular position and the idea is that I advise on all ongoing activities, bearing in mind my work over the past 15 years.
Why that interest in mental health?
When I joined the police, I received five hours or so of training in the area, which covered some parts of key legislation and a general sense of what you, as an officer, should be looking out for when dealing with an individual.
Once I began working as an officer ‘on the beat’ in Birmingham, I was startled by the amount of police-related demand connected to people with mental health problems – not just around crime, but also vulnerable people in need of assistance, for example.
I felt that I simply didn’t know enough about the law, or how the health system worked, and began asking questions. Current estimates suggest that 20 per cent of policing incidents involve someone with a mental health problem – and in my opinion that’s significantly lower than the true figure.
What happened next?
I found that in policing, if you ask a lot of questions and people don’t know the answers to those questions, you get given a job. After completing my Masters in Criminology at Cardiff, I gave my dissertation on mental health to my boss and was moved to police HQ to work on mental health policy and procedure. I’ve spent three and a half of the last 10 years working on policy, procedure and guidelines on mental health.
In 2011, I started using social media in my own time to bang the drum loudly about all the different problems and issues around mental health, to discuss how we could do things differently and better. It has grown into an area of policing that many say is the single biggest area that the police need to tackle nationally.
We have had to establish tactics and techniques to deal with people who are in distress and potentially present a risk to themselves and others, without resorting to armed force. While there have been some tragic, high profile incidents, deaths in police custody have been falling consistently for more than a decade and are very, very rare events. Every day the police are dealing with incidents in a very professional manner and without causing serious injury.
What are your memories of your time at university?
For every graduation ceremony the University would employ the music students of the time to play fanfares. I sat through every one of those ceremonies during my time here, playing percussion, so my memories are of great concerts, good friends, nights out for a beer and a curry in Selly Oak, and an awful lot of laughs along the way.
Watch Old JoE's video interview with Michael on YouTube
Read his blog at https://mentalhealthcop.wordpress.com/