Leaders and residents discuss law hoping to de-escalate mental health crises

Posted at 11:45 PM, Sep 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-22 23:45:24-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The "Marcus Alert" was created last year, named for Marcus David Peters who was shot and killed during an encounter with Richmond Police in 2018.

The shooting was later ruled to be justified, but his family argued that he was in the middle of a mental health crisis and needed help.

As part of the new law, new guidelines and training must be in place by the end of the year.

Officials said that the goal is to diminish the role of police in response to behavioral health crises.

Several organizations will be key in making Marcus Alert system changes, including the Human Rights Commission, which held a forum on Wednesday night to educate people, the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority along with Richmond Police.

The calls for transferring appropriate calls from 911 to 988 regional call centers. 988 is a national mental health crisis helpline set up to go live next summer.

Until then, by the end of 2021, Richmond plans to have an alternate regional line in place serving the same purpose.

The Marcus Alert system will also require all law enforcement agencies to have a specialized plan in place for responding to behavioral health emergencies, regardless of whether or not a behavioral health provider is on the scene.

It will also establish expectations between crisis responders and any law enforcement responding as backup.

"It's an opportunity to have a professional create some equity or just trust in a person that's actually physically going through something and they have someone that is there that can be more of a guide instead of an authority figure," Lawrence West with Black Lives Matter RVA said during the meeting.

Prince William County, Bristol and Washington County, Virginia Beach and the Rappahannock-Rapidan are also a part of the first phase of implementation of the law.

The plans must be submitted by October 15 to take effect by December 1.

The Marcus Alert system is set to be in place across the state by July 2026.

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