Marcus Alert: Richmond launches co-response team to address mental health emergencies

Published: Aug. 25, 2022 at 6:03 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A deadly officer-involved shooting on I-95 has sparked the need for change in how law enforcement responds to mental health emergencies.

Marcus David-Peters was shot by a Richmond police officer in 2018 during an apparent mental crisis. His death led to the “Marcus Alert” program, which the city says is now ready to go with the launch of its co-response team.

“It’s hard to apply Marcus Alert as we see it now to the specific incidents of the tragic shooting of Marcus David-Peters. However, some of the intentions of Marcus Alert is to one create community confidence that there are alternatives,” John Lindstrom, CEO of the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority, said.

With the co-response team, Richmond behavioral specialists will join the Richmond Police Department and Richmond Emergency Communications when responding to mental health emergencies.

“If a call is coming into 988 and they are assessing an immediate safety to self or others risk, they are going to link with the local 911 department,” Amy Herb, regional program director of RBHA, said.

With mental health emergencies rising, Lindstrom says this new step is just the beginning of significant change.

“What we’re hoping will happen is that through the experience of those teams and through the outcomes of their efforts, we can build the case for expansion,” Lindstrom said.

Expansion would mean more behavioral health specialists and more officers available 24/7. The Richmond Police Department has since adjusted training requirements.

“One of our baseline trainings that we expect for police is crisis intervention training - CIT. And Richmond has a very high percentage of officers trained in CIT,” Lindstrom said.

In a statement, Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith said:

RPD officers of the Co-response Team are highly trained in crisis intervention techniques and in de-escalating situations with people in crisis. One of our primary aims within the department is to strengthen our de-escalation efforts through training and recognition of good application of those techniques. Our officers have displayed over and over again their heroic efforts and ability to bring positive outcomes to people in the midst of crisis. We are ready to serve as an integral part of this team.

Over $1.6 million has been invested in the program from city of Richmond and the State Department of Health, but Lindstrom says more will be needed in order for the “Marcus Alert” to be widely successful across Richmond.

Lindstrom says Chesterfield County will be the next jurisdiction implementing the program.