Despite increased training around how to navigate a mental health crisis, law enforcement is often unequipped to handle such interactions appropriately, which can have tragic consequences.
In Virginia, a Marcus Alert system was implemented in 2018. It’s a statewide behavioral health framework designed with protocols that emergency responders use to respond to individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis.
The Marcus Alert is named after Marcus-David Peters, a young, Black biology teacher; killed by Richmond police in 2018 amid a mental health crisis. The goal of the Marcus Alert is to provide a behavioral health response to behavioral health emergencies.
Bill Howard, Director of Crisis Supports and Services, Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, oversees this program for the Commonwealth.
He explains, “The Marcus Alert system is our crisis continuum of care that has interfaced with 911 and law enforcement in the state of Virginia to ensure the appropriate response for the appropriate emergency. So if it’s a mental health response that doesn’t require law enforcement, it doesn’t require securing the environment. A mental health response is then triggered and provided to you in the community rather than pulling you from your home or initiating other more critical systems in the process.”
The system will be part of the new 9-8-8 number that goes into effect in July, which will be available for all mental health crises, including suicide. The new 988 number is designed to divert people in a mental health, substance use, or developmental disability crisis away from a law enforcement response.
The 988 system will be the dedicated call-in line for dispatching trained staff to respond to the mental health and substance use emergencies that have until now been handled by law enforcement with sometimes tragic consequences, particularly for Black, Latino, and Indigenous people, as well as immigrants, LGBTQ youth, and military veterans.
“So when you call 988 or one of our crisis call centers, they have an ongoing interface with 911, and law enforcement to ensure the appropriate level of response to your crisis need. If your crisis need doesn’t require law enforce securing the environment, then you will be provided access to mental health services or a mental health response in the community,” explains Howard.
Where is the Marcus Alert available?
The program is available within each region of the Commonwealth. Specifically:
Western VA : Madison County, Fauquier County , Warrenton and Culpeper City (Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services)
Northern VA : Prince William County (Prince William County Community Services)
Southwest VA: City of Bristol and Washington County including the Towns of Abingdon, Damascus, and Glade Spring (Highlands CSB)
Central VA : City of Richmond (Richmond Behavioral Health Authority)
Southeast VA: City of Virginia Beach (Virginia Beach Human Services )
The remaining cities and counties in Virginia have until July 1, 2026 to implement the Marcus Alert.
For more information about the new 988 number, visit: