I was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and brought up in Northumberland. After leaving school I read music at the University of Birmingham (BMus 1996; MA 1998) and joined West Midlands Police. I served for four years as constable in Winson Green, Birmingham – both in uniform and in CID; and was promoted to sergeant in Moseley / Sparkhill in 2002. It was as a sergeant that I began studying for an MSc in Criminology and Criminal Justice at Cardiff University (MSc 2004), within which I wrote my final dissertation on “police decision making on criminal suspects who are mentally ill”.
Having taken an active interest in mental health issues affecting policing, I was promoted to inspector in 2003 and in 2005 was posted as the force lead on mental health at West Midlands Police headquarters. I was awarded a Bramshill Fellowship in 2007 and then posted to an operational inspector’s role in Birmingham where I policed an area with the largest mental health related demands in the force. In 2009, I again was posted to West Midlands Police headquarters, this time to work for the ACPO Lead on Mental Health & Disability as well as establishing health-based places of safety in every borough of the West Midlands. Seven Place of Safety services were completed by 2011 and more or less eliminated the use of police cells as a Place of Safety in one of the country’s largest forces. These services have resulted in tens of thousands of vulnerable people avoiding the indignity of detention in police cells whilst in crisis and this practice was commented on by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Care Quality Commision as national best practice. It was subsequently highlighted in the UK Parliament.
Between 2010-2016 I lectured on the MSc in Forensic Mental Health at the University of Birmingham and have since given guest lectures at a variety of academic institutions including the world-renowned Institute of Psychiatry, University of London and the University of Manchester. I am also a guest lecturer on initial paramedic training at the University of Worcester, have delivered CPD training to paramedics and Approved Mental Health Professionals across England and Wales and have presented widely at various national and international conferences in the UK and South Africa.
In 2011, I was again posted operationally and these ‘frontline’ positions have allowed me the opportunity to command highly demanding, critical incidents involving vulnerable people. This has notably included many crisis events where people indicated an intention to take their own lives by jumping from heights or by fire. I have also successfully overseen the response to a double homicide and several other incidents of death and serious violence; an incident where a man experiencing an acute psychosis was pointing a firearm at members of the public and supporting health colleagues with entering premises in opposition to armed individuals to detain them under mental health law. These operational postings continue to impress upon me the extent of the work that we have yet to do to improve the way we police and the role of the police in our broader mental health system.
I started writing the “MentalHealthCop” blog in 2011 to reflect these ongoing questions and concerns and became active on social media to promote awareness of the role officers all too often play. Along with my previous experience, this led to my being seconded to the College of Policing in 2014 as their new mental health coordinator and this now allows me to work nationally and internationally on mental health policy and practice in policing. In 2012, I won the Mark Hanson Digital Media Award from the leading mental health charity Mind in 2012, presented by Stephen Fry on London’s South Bank; and in 2015 I was awarded the President’s Medal by the Royal College of Psychiatrists for “a significant contribution to the lives of people living with mental illness”, presented by Professor Sir Simon WESSELY at their International Congress in Birmingham. In 2016 I was appointed an Officer in the Order of the British Empire by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II for services to policing and mental health.
I am married to Lucy and we have a son, Harrison. I occasionally play bass in various bands and less occasionally find time to play squash. I am an RFU-qualified rugby coach and referee and I help run my son’s junior rugby team – an absolute highlight in any week!
IN THE MEDIA
- MentalHealthCop Profile – by Mary O’HARA in the Guardian, December 2012
- Why We Need the Online Presence of MentalHealthCop – by Mary O’HARA in the Guardian, February 2014.
- Why The Police Silenced One of the Best Officers in Britain – by Nick COHEN in the Spectator, February 2014.
Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award.