Inspired by “arrest-referral” programs in the United Kingdom, Seattle officials developed a program to minimize the harm that people that commit minor crimes do themselves and their communities. Instead of throwing criminals in prison, the program seeks to offer help and support to those in need.
According to its website, “Those programs have recently been implemented in virtually every police department in the United Kingdom because pilot projects proved to be so effective.” The city of Seattle created their own program and since implementation, it’s been keeping low-grade criminals off the street. Here’s how they’re doing it….
What is LEAD?
The Seattle program, LEAD, stands for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion. With LEAD, more chronic, illegal drug users and prostitutes will be referred to treatment instead of being thrown in jail, according to the LEAD program, which launched in parts of Seattle in October 2011.
LEAD was first introduced in 2011 on the streets of Belltown, where Seattle police officers were given the discretion to connect certain people busted for drug and prostitution crimes with case workers instead of locking them up in jail. A coalition of law enforcement agencies, public officials, and community groups collaborated to create LEAD and LEAD’s Policy Coordinating Group, which governs the program.
How it Began
Lisa Daugaard, and leaders from law enforcement, the city’s prosecutor’s office and the community decided to create a better option for people facing low-level drug and prostitution crimes. Instead of going to jail, LEAD offers services to people caught with small amounts of illegal drugs. “Our goal is to help people reduce the harm that is happening in their life because of their homelessness and because of their drug use.”
Benefits of LEAD
According to its website, LEAD’s goal is to “improve public safety and public order, and reduce the criminal behavior of people who participate in the program.” Daugaard told WHIO, “Individuals over time do better in LEAD than they do in the justice system as usual. … They commit fewer crimes, they recover, they live healthier lives and they cause fewer problems for other people.”
What LEAD Offers
The program is aimed at meeting a client’s immediate needs, like food and housing. Then LEAD works with participants over months or even years to remake their lives through opportunities like job training, education and treatment. Community-based treatment and support services also include healthcare and mental health support.
How LEAD Works
Every LEAD participant is partnered with a case manager who helps meet their needs and mentors progress, supporting them even when progress is slow, according to Devin Majqut, a LEAD supervisor. “We don’t view relapse as a failure; it’s part of recovery,” Majqut told WHIO.
Those in LEAD
Johnny Bousquet told KIRO 7 that he believes LEAD saved his life. “I was homeless. I was addicted to heroin, meth and cocaine,” he said. Bousquet was a Seattle music executive on his way to fame and fortune after producing a music video starring members of the University of Washington’s football team. Then, five years ago, after going through a divorce and depression, Bousquet was arrested for trying to sell drugs to an undercover Seattle police officer.
Before Bousquet was booked the SPD offered him the opportunity to enter rehab instead of going to jail. “I didn’t think I had any hope, and I didn’t think anybody cared about people like me.” Bousquet accepted and has been clean and sober for the past seven months because of LEAD. Lisa Daugaard says that, “the one word I would use for what we have seen is hope.”
What Makes LEAD Different?
“The diversion in LEAD is made at the pre-booking stage, in the hopes of bypassing the costs and time entailed in booking, charging, and requiring court appearances of an individual,” according to LEAD’s website. The program also “provides participants with immediate case management services, and access to additional resources not available through existing public programs.”
Supporting the Approach
City of Burien’s County Executive, Dow Constantine told KIRO 7, “Studies have shown that this approach reduces recidivism, makes it less likely people will offend in the future and makes it more likely they’ll get their lives on track, over the long term for public safety. That’s what you want to have happen.”
According to Najja Morris, LEAD’s National Support Bureau director, LEAD participants are 58 percent less likely to be re-arrested than chronic drug users sent to jail, where the chances for recovery are slim. “People have a misconception that people are getting treatment in jails and prisons, and they’re actually better,” Morris said. “No, it’s making you feel better because this person is away for a while.” However, LEAD is not for everyone.
Not for Everyone
Morris said that even when LEAD is an option for law enforcement officers: “there are some people who do need to be removed from the community because they’re unsafe.” The drug users that are offered LEAD as an alternative to going to jail enter LEAD because they are not unsafe to other individuals. The most harm these people are doing is to themselves.
Elisabeth James, co-founder of Speak Out Seattle, a nonpartisan coalition advocating for solutions to public safety, homelessness and drug addiction, has seen her neighborhood struggle with homelessness and addiction. She told WHIO that LEAD provides “a lot of different services, but they don’t report on how many people might actually be re-arrested, or who fall through the cracks in the program and end up back in jail for something more serious.”
Supporters of LEAD
Speak Out Seattle has not formally supported or opposed LEAD since they believe they need more data to determine if the program is effective. “We want to have more current data and the more inclusive data on the effect on the public in general.” However, unlike James, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg is fully on board.
“This is science; this is medically approved science,” Satterberg told KIRO 7 about LEAD’s approach and success rate. According to Satterberg, the King County Prosecutor’s Office spent more than $3.5 million in 2017 processing low-level drug cases that could be referred to LEAD; more than the $3.1 million he said the county is expecting to add to its LEAD spending each year.
A Word for Doubters
Satterberg also said that the decision about who will be offered a place in LEAD is left to law enforcement officers alone. “The police officer can decide: Does this person deserve a break? Could they use some help? And if they decide no, this person is violent, dangerous, they’re a drug dealer not just a drug addict, then the officer doesn’t have to use that tool. They can continue to take people to jail,” he said.
Saving Taxpayers Money
However, Satterberg said that “for those tiny amounts of drugs that people possess because they’re daily drug users, let’s get them help. Let’s get them help instead of jail. Jail we know doesn’t work and costs taxpayers millions of dollars a year.”
The LEAD Budget
The proposed 2019-2020 LEAD budget will include $3.1 million from the county’s Mental Illness and Drug Dependency (MIDD) fund to expand LEAD to other cities. According to The Seattle Times, the LEAD budget also includes $4 million to continue the program in Seattle. Since its inception, LEAD has spread beyond Belltown to include Capitol Hill, Pioneer Square and the Aurora corridor. The city also provided $1.75 million to fund the program in 2018, which included 525 participants.
Hoow Much Does it Cost?
According to its website, the program will cost the city nothing. “LEAD stakeholders obtained funding from private foundations to implement the program. Its funders include the Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Vital Projects Fund, RiverStyx Foundation, Massena Foundation, and the Social Justice Fund Northwest.”
“LEAD was inspired by ‘arrest-referral’ programs in the United Kingdom,” according to its website. “Those programs have recently been implemented in virtually every police department in the United Kingdom because pilot projects proved to be so effective.” After launching in Seattle, LEAD has been adopted in 20 cities and counties across the country, with others on the way.