October 13, 1:13 PM click here to comment > 4
LEAD program will help make neighborhoods safer
For years our society has wrestled with the problem of how to deal with the impacts of low-level drug offenses and drug addiction. The U.S. settled on a solution based on criminalization. It hasn’t worked. The drug epidemic has filled our jails and prisons with our friends, neighbors and loved ones.
The Seattle Police Department recently performed a study that found that 50 people in Belltown were responsible for over 2700 arrests. We know that we can’t arrest our way out of this problem. If we could, it would have been solved a long time ago.
Our criminal justice system has a responsibility to produce a creative solution to a complex problem. The status quo isn’t working for law enforcement, for our court system, for the people being arrested, for social service providers and especially not for neighbors in Belltown.
Today we announced that an innovative new pilot program is now operating in Belltown. Instead of arresting low-level drug offenders and prosecuting them, law enforcement will divert them to community-based treatment and support services.
The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program was developed with the community to address the open air drug markets in Seattle and King County. The pilot projects will be conducted in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood and the Skyway neighborhood of unincorporated King County.
The primary goal of the LEAD program is to improve public safety and public order, and to reduce the criminal behavior of people who participate in the program. At the press conference today in Belltown, King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg said “One goal of drug prosecution is to offer addicted people a chance for treatment. LEAD can achieve that goal through bypassing the jail and courthouse and bringing an arrested offender immediately to treatment. I have high hopes that this new option will increase public safety and change lives for those caught in the downward spiral of drug addiction.
The LEAD program is based on successful ‘arrest referral schemes’ that have been operating in the United Kingdom for several years. “We know that the issue of chemical dependency in our society cannot be solved by law enforcement alone. It is a complex social problem that requires a comprehensive social solution,” said Seattle Chief of Police John Diaz. “LEAD provides our front line police officers with the discretion necessary to ensure that treatment diversion is utilized as a viable alternative to incarceration.”
As a pilot program, LEAD will undergo a rigorous evaluation to determine whether it has been a success. “We are looking for effective public safety solutions,” said Mayor Mike McGinn. “If drug dealing and crime could be solved by arrests alone, we would have solved this problem a couple thousand arrests ago. LEAD offers a promising alternative to traditional responses to street-level drug dealing, and we look forward to tracking its results in Belltown.”
“Sheriff Sue Rahr and her staff support the concepts that act as the basis for the LEAD program and we look forward to our participation,” said King County Sheriff Major James Graddon. “Respect, open communication and common goals among some historically adversarial groups have created a positive environment to move this program forward. Using the formal criminal justice system for all offenses is costly and has proven to not necessarily be the most effective way to impact future offender behavior.”
Community leaders have been involved with the LEAD program from the very beginning and will continue to work with the program in an advisory capacity. “The Downtown Seattle Association has long recognized that Downtown is everybody’s neighborhood, and investments in robust social service intervention strategies are part of making Downtown a healthy and safe community. We are delighted to see the emergence of LEAD, an innovative strategy to combat open air drug markets in which police response to drug activity is directly connected to services, providing more effective alternatives to incarceration,” said Kate Joncas, President of the Downtown Seattle Association.
The LEAD program will initially be funded by grants from private foundations.
LEAD is governed by a Policy Coordinating Group which is made up of a diverse set of stakeholders, including representatives from the Seattle Office of the Mayor; King County Executive Office; Seattle City Council; King County Council; Seattle City Attorney’s Office; King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office; Seattle Police Department; King County Sheriff’s Office; Washington State Department of Corrections; Belltown LEAD Community Advisory Board; Skyway LEAD Community Advisory Board; The Defender Association; and the ACLU of Washington. “It’s heartening to have this unique set of stakeholders working together.” City Attorney Pete Holmes said. “My office will advise SPD on legal issues every step of the way in this innovative attempt to reduce low-level drug activity,”
Although the LEAD program is only a pilot at this point, it is hoped that it could someday be expanded to additional neighborhoods in Seattle and King County. “The LEAD pilot has the potential to help people struggling with addiction and save public dollars at the same time,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “We can work in partnership to replace a downward spiral toward jail with support and resources. Our families and neighborhoods are better off when those headed for the criminal justice system are instead given the opportunity to lead a fulfilling and productive life.”
Posted by: Words: April Thomas, Pictures: Jen Nance