RICHMOND, Va. — The name Marcus David Peters is known by many in the Richmond area. His death in 2018 sparked a movement and a new state law.
Peters, high school teacher, was shot by Richmond Police on Interstate 95 in the city. The 24-year-old was experiencing a mental health crisis when he charged at an officer.
Some believe a counselor or mental health expert could have prevented the situation from escalating.
As a result, Gov. Ralph Northam signed the Marcus Alert bill into law.
Introduced by Richmond’s Del. Jeffrey Bourne, the law demands every locality must have protocols in place for a diversion of certain 911 calls to crisis call centers, and for law enforcement to participate in the system by July 1, 2022.
However, Senate Bill 361 would allow for localities across the state to opt out, if passed.
Dana Schrad, executive director of Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, supported the potential change in the law.
“I think the combination of the pandemic and a variety of different things have really led to a depletion of resources in our localities,” Schrad explained. “We don’t have sufficient law enforcement officers. We certainly don’t have a sufficient number of mental health workers in our community service boards.”
Schrad worried about the implications for smaller localities if the new bill were to fail.
“When you stand up a program that you don’t have sufficient resources for under a state mandate and local resources fail to carry out the Marcus Alert program the way it was designed then you have an opening for liability against those localities,” she said. “Liability against those mental health workers and against those law enforcement officers. That really then further deletes the resources that we need to apply for those programs.”
Del. Bourne argued mental health support has largely been ignored in Virginia.
“I think it was always available, optional, but not too many places were doing it,” he stated. “But what we saw was a continuation of the criminalization of mental health and we’ve done that far too long.”
On Tuesday, the Senate Education and Health Committee advanced the bill. Lawmakers amended it so areas with populations of 80,000 people or less could opt out.