Marcus Alert program

needed throughout state

Editor, Times-Dispatch:

In 2018, members of The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Virginia (NAMI Virginia), along with our affiliate NAMI Central Virginia, were heartbroken over the senseless and horrific death of Marcus Peters, a young Black educator in Richmond. At the time of the police-involved shooting, Peters was unarmed and experiencing a mental health crisis. He required medical intervention, but instead was met with force. Over the years, NAMI has advocated for Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, jail diversion programs, the use of de-escalation tactics, increased education and the need to have mental health professionals present as the authority on crisis calls to mitigate violent outcomes for those experiencing a mental health crisis.

The Richmond Police Department (RPD) has a CIT training program. NAMI participates in a section of CIT training by sharing real stories of mental illness to educate, reduce stigma, stress the value of empathy and create overall positive change. The purpose of CIT is to change the nature and perception of crisis calls to allow for effective field intervention. But, as we have seen through the senseless deaths of Peters and others, more needs to be done. The system needs to evolve to include diverse accountability and mental health authorities on all mental health crisis calls. The Marcus Alert provides these lifesaving measures.

The death of Peters is never far from the minds of the mental health community. With the recent death of George Floyd, those in Richmond have redoubled their efforts in fighting for reform. Protesters have demanded the implementation of the Marcus Alert, a policy that would bring together a team from the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority and the RPD for calls where an individual is experiencing a mental health crisis. NAMI Virginia supports the Marcus Alert and is hopeful that similar initiatives will be enacted in all communities across the commonwealth.

Katherine Harkey.

Executive Director, NAMI Virginia.

Richmond

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