Letter blocks spelling 'mental health' beside twig.

Virginia’s “Marcus Alerts” Change Police Response to Mental Health Crises

On May 14, 2018, Marcus-David Peters was in a car accident while driving to work. He was a 24-year-old high school biology teacher at Essex High School. Peters fled the scene of the accident, and a police officer who witnessed the event pursued. Peters parked his car by the on-ramp of I-95 and emerged nude and visibly distraught. A car hit him, but he got back up and began advancing on the officer. The officer tased him several times, but he continued his approach, screaming. Eventually, the officer opened fire, killing Peters.

Two different Virginia DAs reviewed the case and found the officer clear of wrongdoing. However, the social climate was changing, and anti-police protests formed nationwide in 2020. Virginia decided that there was good cause for reforming the way authorities handled people experiencing a mental health crisis.

This year, the state will begin implementing “Marcus Alerts,” named in honor of Marcus-David Peters.

Marcus Alerts

As part of a massive police reform project taking place this year, police will begin handling calls for mental health issues much differently. First off, they will not be the first responders. Mental health professionals trained in crisis prevention will be first on the scene when someone is having an issue. Police can then be called for backup only, just in case the person in crisis becomes violent, has a weapon, etc.

The details of how to implement this new service must be created by the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS). Working together, they must have a plan in place by July 1, 2021.

The service must be ready for use by December 1, 2021. By that time, there must be five functioning Marcus Alert programs, one to represent each of the five DBHDS regions. By July 1, 2023, five more Marcus Alert programs need to be functional, giving the state a total of 10.

Details are still being fine-tuned, but there are plans to include 911 and other emergency services into the program, ensuring that more than just police will be contacted in a mental health emergency.

The Law Office of Ann Thayer, PLLC is here to protect the rights of Virginia citizens, and we will be keeping a close watch on the Marcus Alert programs and their implementation. If you are in need of criminal defense, call us today at (703) 940-0001, or contact us online.