May 2, 2024 - News

Richmond struggles to staff mental health crisis response program

A memorial at the base of a graffitied pedestal with flowers and pictures of a man next to a sign that says "Black Lives Matter"

A memorial to Marcus-David Peters, who the Marcus Alert is named after, in June 2020. Photo: Ryan M. Kelly/AFP/Getty Images

Richmond still does not have enough people to fully staff the Marcus Alert System, a program meant to limit police involvement in mental health crises, reports WRIC.

Why it matters: "We have more calls than we can possibly handle," Paula Bartlett, the program's manager at the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority, told WRIC.

State of play: In 2020, former Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill to establish the Marcus Alert statewide.

  • It was named after Marcus-David Peters, a teacher Richmond police killed during a mental health emergency in 2018.

The law's intent was to reduce interactions like that by having behavioral health professionals respond to mental health calls and only bringing in police when there are threats or a firearm is present.

Yes, but: Richmond and Chesterfield are the only localities in the region to build the program so far. Most of Virginia hasn't.

  • The nationwide behavioral workforce shortage isn't helping, either.
  • The city can't fill a second response team because it hasn't hired a clinician or a designated officer to handle the mental health calls, per WRIC.
  • About 1,000 mental health calls are coming in each week.

What's next: Localities with more than 40,000 people have until July 2028 to adopt the Marcus Alert system.

Go deeper via VPM: Activists say Marcus alert system isn't doing enough.

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