Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) is a pre-arrest and pre-booking diversion program developed by community members, criminal justice system stakeholders and reformers, public health and social service experts, and elected officials to address non-violent law violations by utilizing non-coercive and non-punitive public health based intensive case management. LEAD enables law enforcement officers to redirect individuals engaged in law violations arising primarily from behavioral health conditions such as substance use or mental health issues to community-based services instead of using legal sanctions like arrest and jail.
LEAD was a direct response to two issues of importance to community members and key stakeholders. The first issue was extreme racial disparity in the criminal justice system (especially in terms of arrest and prosecution for low-level drug offenses). The second was increasing dissatisfaction with open-air drug sales and consumption and a sense that criminal justice system-driven responses were inadequate. Based on mutual agreement that the status quo was clearly unacceptable and unsustainable, LEAD was launched on a pilot basis in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood in October 2011.
LEAD expanded to cover all of downtown Seattle (including Pioneer Square and Chinatown-International District) in 2015 and began operating in the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct (covering Capital Hill and the Central District) in 2017. It expanded to the SPD North Precinct in late 2018 and will expand to Burien and at least one other city within King County in 2019. Additionally, LEAD has been replicated in over 35 jurisdictions from Maine to Hawai’i ranging in size from under 15,000 to over four million (see here for a current list of cities replicating LEAD).
Independent evaluations (available here) found that LEAD reduced the criminal justice system involvement (arrests and convictions on new offenses) of program participants, is less costly than approaches relying on the criminal justice system, and is well accepted and regarded by participants. LEAD is identified as a “promising practice” by the Bureau of Justice Assistance and harm reduction based pre-arrest and or pre-booking diversion programs were highlighted as a key recommendation of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. LEAD was funded at the federal level as part of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) in the 2018 Omnibus funding bill and was refunded in the federal 2019 budget, and has been funded at the state level in California, Colorado, North Carolina, and Hawai’i.