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Virginia Behavioral Health Agency Considers Extending Emergency Custody Order Period

Virginia’s behavioral health agency released a series of draft policy options Monday afternoon designed to help alleviate overcrowding at state hospitals. Members of the workgroup then weighed in.

The biggest point of contention: whether or not to extend the Emergency Custody Order (ECO) period. An ECO is a magistrate-issued order that mandates an evaluation for people with serious mental illness who are a danger to themselves or others.

Virginia’s ECO period is currently eight hours. State officials proposed extending that period to 24 hours, while also making modifications to address the custody of the individual in crisis during that period. One option would expand access to Crisis Intervention Team Assessment Centers (CITACs) to help alleviate pressure on law enforcement.

Still, law enforcement officials worried the 24-hour ECO period would lead to officers spending more time away from the communities they serve, transporting those in crisis. Especially in southwest Virginia, said Gary Roche, Police Chief for the Pulaski Police Department.

“I cannot stress the load law enforcement is carrying under the current system,” Roche said. “I’d almost suggest that it’s coming to the point that instead of a criminal charge being the last resort, it’ll become the first resort just to ignore it [ECO].”

Others like VOCAL Executive Director Deidre Johnson also voiced concerns about the ECO extension. “I can’t say we’d be on board with a whole 24-hour ECO extension,” Johnson said. “We recognize in some instances that’s very appropriate. In other instances, that causes other trauma.”

Under another recommendation, the hospital would be responsible for the individual’s custody, not law enforcement. Other ideas would extend the ECO period only for smaller target groups, like only those with complex medical needs or who's intoxicated.

The workgroup will meet again next month. They’ll present a final list of recommendations to lawmakers in the fall.

*The headline of this story has been altered and the audio has been removed to clarify that etending the ECO period is a draft policy proposal.

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Megan Pauly reports on early childhood and higher education news in Virginia
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