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If Passed, Bill Could Delay ‘Marcus Alert’ Systems Until 2026

A mural of Marcus-David Peters
A new mural by Jowarnise Caston and Ian C. Hess, the "Spirit of Sankofa," pays tribute to Marcus-David Peters. (Image courtesy the Virginia Museum of History & Culture, ‘Spirit of Sankofa’ - artists Jowarnise Caston and Ian C. Hess)

The Virginia House of Delegates will take up its version of the Marcus alert system this afternoon. But the family of the bill’s namesake, Marcus David Peters, isn’t happy with recent changes to legislation.

Richmond Del. Jeff Bourne’s bill originally called for all localities to have the system in place by January 2022. But last week, the House Appropriations Committee advanced a version that would implement the system in phases. Five localities, including Richmond, would be required to have their systems ready by next July.  The rest of Virginia would have until 2026. 

Peters’ sister Princess Blanding says that’s too long to wait.

“That’s a lot of lives lost,” Blanding said. “That’s a lot of people being incarcerated for having a mental health crisis and that’s a lot of people being brutalized throughout that long time. There’s no justifiable reason for it.”

Last week, Bourne explained why he chose the phased-in approach. 

“To, one, reduce the up-front cost,” Bourne said. “Two, to get some data, so that moving forward we can prepare ourselves and position ourselves for the best statewide implementation.”

The bill would route emergency calls for service involving a mental health crisis to mental health professionals who would act as first responders to the scene -- limiting interactions between law enforcement and people with mental illnesses. The bill charges the Department of Criminal Justice Services and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services with helping local governments develop the systems.

The House bill is significantly closer than the Senate version to the original proposal, which was developed with the help of Blanding and other police reform advocates.

That bill, introduced by Sen. Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William) instructs the state to help set up the systems, but lets localities decide how they want to implement them, instead of the unified system the House mandates.

Blanding says McPike’s bill is even further from the bill advocates want to see passed this session.