Marcus Alert Implementation Plan Released

July 9, 2021

The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) and the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) have released the state plan for the implementation of the Marcus-David Peters Act, a requirement of legislation enacted during the fall 2020 special session and the product of five months of work by a stakeholder group, which met 12 times this year between January and May.  A summary of the state plan has been posted on the DBHDS website; the full plan is also available at this link.

The Marcus-David Peters Act was enacted as a result of the death of Marcus-David Peters, a biology teacher who was shot and killed by police while experiencing a behavioral health crisis, and builds on earlier efforts to improve outcomes for individuals experiencing similar crises when they interact with the criminal justice system.  The Act seeks to ensure that the behavioral health system is the first responder in such situations, to the extent possible, and that when law enforcement must be the first responders, the response is specialized and informed by additional training.  VACo hosted a webinar with DBHDS and DCJS staff in December 2020, which provides an outline of the Act; a recording is available at this link.  A follow-up webinar recorded as part of VACo’s County Pulse Legislative Series in June 2021 may be found at this link.

The Act required DBHDS and DCJS to develop the written implementation plan by July 1, 2021, in preparation for the first five Marcus Alert programs being established by December 1, 2021.  The legislation specified certain required elements in the plan, including an inventory of existing efforts (such as crisis intervention team training and mobile crisis teams), protocols for the diversion of calls from 911 to a crisis call center, and a summary of existing funding for emergency and crisis services.

The plan outlines the overall vision for a statewide behavioral health crisis service continuum, to include community-based crisis supports – someone to call (a point of entry that is easy to identify and coordinated with, but separate from, 911); someone to respond (a system that provides 24/7 coverage, which may include telehealth, for on-scene stabilization, assessment, and planning); and somewhere to go (defined as a place “that turns no one away and provides a range of crisis supports that are appropriately matched to the risk of harm of the situation,” and accepts both walk-ins and law enforcement drop-offs).  It catalogs existing efforts underway, including Crisis Intervention Team Assessment Centers, crisis stabilization units, mobile crisis and co-responder teams, and outlines existing state and local funding supporting components of the crisis system.

The plan sets out a framework for triage of emergency calls, with an expectation that law enforcement will still participate in responding to some calls that are particularly emergent in nature.  Local plans will have some flexibility to tailor their responses within this overall framework, given resources in each community.  In general, routine calls (Level 1) are to be transferred from 911 Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs)  to the new statewide crisis call center, which will also serve as the access point to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.  A new number, 988, has been designated as the national number to call to be connected to these resources, beginning in July 2022, and the state plans to undertake a public outreach campaign to raise awareness of this number to call in case of behavioral health emergencies.  Calls where clinical intervention is needed, but are deemed to be of moderate urgency, require a behavioral-health led response and are considered Level 2.  Situations involving active aggression are considered Level 3 and would require co-response by behavioral health and law enforcement.  Unpredictable and potentially life-threatening situations would be classified as Level 4 and would require immediate response from law enforcement.  Local programs are expected to be able to use regional mobile crisis teams provided through the STEP-VA initiative to provide behavioral health system responses, but the report acknowledges that coverage sufficient to enable a response within one hour (or 90 minutes in rural areas) will not be achieved until July 2023, and it is expected that some local programs will include additional teams, whether supplied through the local Community Services Board or additional private providers.

The plan addresses a number of other elements of implementation of the Marcus Alert system, including:

  • State training standards for law enforcement and behavioral health providers
  • Training for PSAP dispatchers
  • Initiatives to improve racial equity in access to behavioral health services in the community
  • Requirements for local plans, to include protocols for transferring calls from 911 to 988; protocols for an agreement between each mobile crisis hub and any law enforcement agency that will provide backup; and protocols for a specialized law enforcement response to a behavioral health crisis
  • The Act’s requirement for each locality to establish a voluntary database to be made available to the 911 and Marcus Alert system that allows individuals or their parents or guardians to provide mental health and emergency contact information to assist in responding in case of an emergency
  • Plans for future work on reporting and evaluation

Sustained state efforts will be required to ensure a successful implementation of this complex legislation, and VACo will continue to advocate for these vital resources.  In addition to the funding discussion in the implementation plan, budget language directs the Compensation Board to survey sheriffs’ offices to determine resources that may be necessary for staffing and training necessary to comply with the Act.  That report is due November 1, 2021.

VACo Contact:  Katie Boyle

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