Arlington is building an appeal system to divert people in mental health crisis from prison | ARLnow
Arlington County is developing an alert system to improve its emergency response to behavioral health crises.
The aim of the system, dubbed Marcus Alert, is to prevent people in crisis – due to mental illness, substance use disorder or intellectual and developmental disability – from being arrested and imprisoned.
It comes from the Marcus-David Peters Act, which was signed into law at the end of 2020 and is named after Marcus-David Peters, a 24-year-old biology professor who was killed by a police officer in 2018 while going through a crisis of Mental Health. .
Once operational, the system would transfer people who call 911 or 988 – a new national suicide and mental health crisis hotline – to a regional call center where staff will determine whether to agrees to defuse the situation by telephone, to send a mobile crisis unit or to send specially trained law enforcement.
Last summer, Arlington began developing its Marcus Alert plan, a draft of which must be submitted to the state by May 22. It’s asking residents to share their experiences with the county’s current response to the behavioral health crisis via an anonymous, voluntary survey open through mid-March.
Locals can also email the county to sign up to participate in focus groups, which will meet in early to mid-March.
State law requires the county’s final plan be implemented by July 1.
“We hope that with the Marcus Alert and increased community outreach and co-response, we will see a reduction in arrests of people with [serious mental illnesses]Suzanne Somerville, director of the Arlington Department of Social Services’ Office of Residential and Specialty Clinical Services, told ARLnow. “The system is extremely strained at the moment and hospitalization for people who need it for psychiatric symptoms is not always easy to achieve.”
DHS blames the pressure on COVID-19 and a lack of beds in public mental hospitals after the Commonwealth closed more than half of those hospitals to new admissions amid its own workforce crisis. It overwhelmed local hospitals and the Arlington County Police Department, and caused weary DHS clinicians and Arlington police officers to resign.
“Everyone is trying to do the right thing and give the customer the services they need and deserve and we just don’t have the resources right now,” said program manager Aubrey Graham. behavioral health clinic at Arlington County Jail.
Bed shortages are also impacting court hearings, as many inmates with mental illnesses require skills restoration services to understand court procedures and work with their defense attorney. Graham says inmates must go to public hospitals at the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, further limiting beds.
Compared to other jurisdictions, Arlington sends proportionally more people to Western State Hospital for skills restoration, according to ARLnow data requested from DBHDS. It also saw the largest increase in admission rates between 2020 and 2021.
Graham says she isn’t aware of any studies explaining why Arlington sees so many people with serious mental illnesses, but geography plays a role, as about 70% of people sent to public hospitals come from DC, Maryland and other areas of Virginia. Only about 30% of people sent to public hospitals in Arlington are actually Arlington residents.
“While there are a large number of competency assessments sought in the Arlington courts, the referrals are entirely appropriate and most are deemed incompetent to stand trial,” Graham said.
That’s why police shouldn’t arrest them in the first place, says chief public defender Brad Haywood, adding that people with mental illnesses are overrepresented in the county jail, which sees continued inmate deaths and no may not have the resources to address the needs of the mentally ill.
Haywood says the data points confirm what he observed while practicing in Northern Virginia.
“It’s really striking how many people are arrested with serious mental illness in Arlington,” he said. “DHS told me that part of the problem is that there are more people in Arlington than in other communities – I can also imagine the police arresting more of them.”
Many arrests occur when people suffering from politically constructed delusions and paranoia flock to federal buildings such as the Pentagon and Reagan National Airport, Graham said.
“The airport has always been a place frequented by homeless people and customers with serious mental illnesses,” Graham said. “There are a large number of low-level misdemeanor charges that occur due to the presence of customers at the airport.”
For its part, the ACPD is training all Police Academy officers in de-escalation and active listening to better respond to people in crisis, according to a DHS presentation. Nearly 75% of patrol officers and 53% of all officers have completed the 40-hour training program run by DHS and ACPD.
Last year, the police department launched a multi-year de-escalation training program. It also plans to offer advanced and refresher courses.
There are times when officers need to make in-custody arrests, says ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage. These include situations where the police are bound by mandatory arrest statutes, such as domestic violence, and any time the individual does not stop engaging in illegal behaviors.
“We recognize that individuals may be suffering from mental illness or crisis and may not exhibit indicators at the time of interacting with an officer,” she said. “Where signs of a behavioral health crisis are known, there are multiple routes of diversion — both in the community working with DHS and in the detention center working with the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office.”
Anyone who calls (703) 527-4077 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or texts CONNECT to 855-11 can receive crisis intervention, suicide and information about community resources. People in need can also call Arlington Emergency Mental Health Services at (703) 228-5160 for help.