VACo and VML hosted staff from the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) and the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) on December 21 for a briefing on the status of implementation of the “Marcus Alert” legislation that was enacted during the 2020 fall special session. We appreciate the participation of Chief Deputy Commissioner for Community Services Mira Signer, Deputy Director for Community Services Dr. Lisa Jobe-Shields, and Assistant Commissioner for Developmental Services Heather Norton, all of DBHDS, and DCJS Division Director Harvey S. Powers. A recording of the briefing may be found at this link, and the accompanying presentation may be found at this link.
The Marcus Alert legislation seeks to ensure that individuals in crisis receive a response from the behavioral health system when possible, and a specialized response from law enforcement when necessary. DBHDS, in collaboration with DCJS and representatives of law enforcement, behavioral health, emergency management, and other stakeholders, is charged with developing a written plan for the development of a Marcus Alert system by July 1, 2021. The plan must inventory current crisis intervention and mobile crisis teams and other collaborations between Community Services Boards (CSBs) and law enforcement agencies, and include protocols for the diversion of calls from 911 to a crisis call center, as well as protocols and minimum standards for law enforcement participation in the alert system. The first set of Marcus Alert programs and crisis teams must be established by December 1, 2021; by July 1, 2023, five additional teams must be established, and all CSB catchment areas must be served by a Marcus Alert system by July 1, 2026. In addition, the legislation requires every locality, by July 1, 2021, to establish a database that is accessible to the 911 system to provide mental health and emergency contact information that may be helpful in responding to a crisis (this information would be voluntarily provided by individuals with certain behavioral health or other conditions or their parents or guardians). By July 1, 2022, every locality must have established protocols for the diversion of 911 calls to crisis centers and the participation of law enforcement in the Marcus Alert system.
DBHDS and DCJS are in the process of assembling the stakeholder group that will assist in developing the implementation plan in advance of the July 1 deadline, and expect that the stakeholder group, once convened, will hold approximately 10 meetings, in addition to three meetings held to solicit public comment. DBHDS has also been in discussions with CSBs to determine which areas of the state may be interested in participating in the first set of Marcus Alert programs, which may serve a single CSB or a regional collaboration, and will be established by the December 1, 2021, deadline. Expressions of interest were due to Dr. Jobe-Shields on January 4, and the membership of the statewide planning group is expected to be announced soon. VACo will continue to be in close contact with DBHDS and DCJS as the implementation process moves forward and will provide regular updates to members.