Jim LaGraffe

Jim LaGraffe, Executive Director of the RRCS, reached out regarding action that came out of the recent General Assembly session (HB5043 "Marcus Alert").

In an email on Tuesday, Rappahannock County Supervisor Ron Frazier notified his colleagues that an action the Board of Supervisors took at its  Monday afternoon meeting would have to be nullified because of a technicality.

On Monday, the Board voted 3-1-1 in support of the Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services Board becoming the Region One administrator of the Marcus Alert system. Frazier cast the dissenting vote and Board Chair Christine Smith abstained from the vote altogether. 

“I would be remiss if I did not point out yet one more instance yesterday where I had a momentary lapse of attention,” Frazier wrote. 

“The ‘Marcus Alert’ item was an addendum item and therefore required unanimous consent from the Board as an action item. I knew this perhaps better than any other member because of being on the Rules Committee when we had to codify what had been a mutual agreement of how addendum items were to [be] handled.”

Citing Rappahannock County code 30-2, Frazier wrote that “the motion did not carry.”

County Administrator Garrey Curry and Chair Smith thanked Frazier for his attention to the code and agreed that the vote would have to be nullified.

Curry said in an email to the Rappahannock News that he has since reached out to Jim LaGraffe, executive director of RRCSB “to let him know a letter would not be forthcoming.” 

According to Curry, a seemingly unfazed LaGraffe responded: “This is fine, I don’t need a formal letter. I discussed with your Board, I can say with honesty they support us sending a letter of intent.”

RRCSB is hoping to launch a pilot program for the Marcus Alert, a measure by the Virginia General Assembly aimed at improving community crisis response. The alert system would pair law enforcement officers with mental health professionals to de-escalate situations where a citizen may be in need of behavioral or psychiatric services. 

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The measure is named after Marcus-David Peters, a Black 24-year-old high school biology teacher, who was shot and killed by a police officer in Richmond in 2017. According to his family, Peters, a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, was experiencing a mental health crisis. He was naked and unarmed when the officer deployed his taser and then then fatally shot him.  

“Part of the legislation said they wanted one health program to pilot one health program in every region in the state,” LaGraffe said in a phone call on Wednesday. The Region One health district extends from Fredericksburg to Lynchburg and northwest of Staunton, and there are nine community service boards across the region.

“I have to notify the department that we want to be considered for the pilot program by Jan. 4,” LaGraffe said, explaining that he has to include in his letter of intent that RRCSB has reached out to local government bodies and gotten their support.

LaGraffe also explained that RRCSB already has a program for “embedded” behavioral health specialists in Culpeper and Fauquier counties, where mental health professionals help respond to calls relating to behavioral health crises.

“The whole idea of this is that law enforcement takes control if the situation becomes unsafe … but in the absence of that, if it’s just a person in crisis, then the clinician actually takes the lead and helps to de-escalate the situation,” LaGraffe explained. 

“The goal is really to alleviate the burden on law enforcement to respond to behavioral health and homelessness calls and to help divert people who don’t need to be detained … to hospitals and other services.”

Community services boards throughout the commonwealth like RRCSB will play a vital role in administering the Marcus Alert program.

The support letter will go to a revote at the next meeting of the Board of Supervisors on Jan. 4, 2021.