Arlington County

‘Long overdue': Arlington County launches mental health crisis response system

The system helps the 911 call center, regional crisis center and law enforcement coordinate a compassionate response

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Arlington County launched a new system to better respond to individuals who may be experiencing a mental health crisis. The system is in place to tailor a more effective response to those in need when someone dials 911.

The Marcus Alert System establishes coordination between the 911 call center, the regional crisis center and law enforcement to enhance services and responses for people experiencing a crisis related to mental health, substance abuse or a developmental disability.

The Marcus Alert System is also in place in Prince William, Loudoun and Fairfax counties.

“The beauty of the system is that it ensures that all individuals receive equitable access to behavioral health resources,” said Tiffany Jones, the Arlington County Marcus Alert coordinator. “Essentially, the system is designed to bridge the gaps between the behavioral health system and the criminal justice system.”

The Marcus Alert System was named after Marcus-David Peters, a Black biology teacher who was killed by Richmond police in 2018 while experiencing a mental health crisis.

In 2020, a law was passed requiring localities in Virginia to establish protocols to better respond to mental health calls.

“This system is long overdue,” Jones said. “Not only to better look at the gaps and barriers within our system, but to ensure that there’s equitable services for all."

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Emergency call takers have undergone special training on mental health and psychotic disorders, as well as tactics to deescalate a crisis situation.

When every second counts, the training can make all the difference.

“To increase the likelihood that when an individual is experiencing a behavioral health crisis, they receive a compassionate and behavioral health response rather than a law enforcement response,” Jones said.

All cities and towns in Virginia with more than 40,000 residents are required to have the Marcus Alert System in place by 2028.

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