ICYMI: Responding to Mental Health Crises with Licensed Mental Health Workers Works!

Alexandria, Virginia—The Alexandria Co-Response Program (ACORP), which has been up and running since September 2021, has responded to over 100 calls since its inception and has proved to be a successful partnership between law enforcement officers and licensed mental health workers. The program pairs police officers and licensed mental health experts so when a call that reports unusual behavior or threats of self harm, someone who is actually trained to respond to mental health crises is on the scene. In close to fifty percent of the calls the pairs have responded to, the problem was resolved at the scene and did not involve violent interactions with law enforcement, issuing tickets, or arrests.

SB361, which was recently signed by Governor Glenn Youngkin in April, made participation in the Marcus alert system optional, a move in the wrong direction, especially in light of the success of the ACORP. The Marcus Alert passed the Virginia General Assembly in 2020 and was created to ensure that behavioral health experts are involved in responding to people who are experiencing a mental health crisis. The law is named in honor of Marcus David-Peters, a high school biology teacher who was killed by a police officer in Richmond while experiencing a behavioral health crisis in 2018. 

“This co-response model is a revolutionary step towards police and criminal justice reform. We commend Alexandria officials for their intentionality in improving the response to mental health crises here in Virginia,” LaTwyla Mathias, Executive Director at Progress Virginia, said. “We have seen the success of utilizing crisis counselors in partnership with law enforcement and paramedics. We absolutely cannot respond to every situation with police sirens blaring and guns blazing. These can be deadly situations for Black people in our Commonwealth. Deploying alternative ways to respond to community members in crisis- ways that do not result in community members being taken away on stretchers or thrown behind bars – should not be optional. In the midst of their worst days or moments, everyone in our community is deserving of the compassion and understanding that only a skilled mental health counselor can offer.”

Alexandria is Sending A Mental Health Worker Out With Police on Emergency Calls. So Far, It’s Working [ DCist Daily, by Margaret Barthel]

“The Alexandria Co-Response program (ACORP), launched in September 2021, partners a police officer with a licensed mental health worker to respond to 911 calls. Reducing or removing police entirely from responding to calls with a mental health component has gained traction regionally and nationally — particularly in the wake of police shootings of people in mental health distress — as an approach that could cut down on arrests of people who need behavioral health care, not jail.”

“From Oct. 2021 to Feb. 2022, ACORP — which is currently only two people, a clinician and a police officer — responded to a total of 145 calls to 911, more than half for unusual behavior or threats of self-harm. Of the calls that the study determined could have resulted in an arrest, 71% diverted people towards other services.”

“The pair were able to resolve the problem in person on the scene in a little less than half of all the calls (45%). In other cases, they referred people to community services that could help them (20%) or were able to transport someone voluntarily to a hospital, shelter, or other service for support. Just 13% of the calls ended in an involuntary transport to the hospital.”

“In one case, for example, ACORP members successfully de-escalated a situation involving a person who had been cutting himself with a knife, the presence of which had caused many police officers to rush to the scene and surround the man.”

“Alexandria’s 2023 budget, recently passed by the City Council, includes funding for two more ACORP teams.”