HENRY COUNTY, Va. – A new database will keep Henry County and Martinsville citizens and first responders safer in an emergency.
JR Powell, the dispatch director for the Martinsville-Henry County 911 Center, said law enforcement doesn’t always know what to expect on a 911 call. They also don’t always know when someone’s having a mental health crisis, which can be dangerous for the citizen and the first responder.
“To date, if you call 911 and you’re having a mental health crisis, our only answer is to send a law enforcement officer, a police officer,” said Powell. “Sometimes that’s the right response and sometimes it’s not.”
This month, the center launched an online database where citizens can enter their own or a family member’s mental health information.
“We’re allowing our citizens to share information ahead of time rather than in the midst of their emergency when it’s difficult to communicate, when it’s hard to understand, when emotions are running high,” said Powell.
It’s a statewide initiative stemming from a Virginia bill passed last year after the death of Marcus-David Peters, a Virginia man who was shot and killed by police in 2018 in the midst of a mental health crisis.
“That’s the worst case. That’s what we don’t want our officers to get faced with,” said Powell.
Henry County Public Relations and Community Liaison Brandon Martin said the database is completely voluntary and confidential and it’s not just for mental health. You can enter other medical conditions, allergies, or substance use.
“The more information that our folks at the 911 center have, the better they can help you in the time of an emergency,” said Martin.
Over the next year, localities, dispatch centers, law enforcement and the Commonwealth’s Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services will come together to create a protocol for responding to mental health calls with the help of new mobile crisis teams.
“What resources are available locally, what resources are available statewide to help citizens with mental health disabilities so it’s not always left to the law enforcement agencies to figure it out,” said Powell.
The goal is that one day mental health professionals - and not police - can respond.
“There could be social services, there could be counselors,” said Powell, “that can handle and better help that citizen rather than a police officer.”
People who don’t have access to a computer can just call the center’s non-emergency number and have a form mailed to them.