Seattle’s Police-Social Service Program Reports Success, Gets Criticism


Seattle’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program (LEAD), which gives police the option to send repeat nonviolent offenders to social-service programs instead of jail has been embraced by the White House and is drawing interest across the U.S., says the Wall Street Journal. The 4-year old program highlights a debate over whether traditional crime-fighting methods, emphasizing arrest and incarceration, need to change. Backers say LEAD aims to break a common cycle: A person is repeatedly arrested and jailed for nonviolent crimes often related to addiction to narcotics or alcohol. Under LEAD, the person can be sent directly by police to a social-service worker who helps arrange drug treatment, housing and other services.

University of Washington researchers found “statistically significant reductions in arrests and felony charges” for LEAD participants compared with a control group. The data “indicated positive effects of the LEAD program on recidivism,” the study said. LEAD has 340 participants. Some say the LEAD approach adds duties for overworked police officers. Officers now “are charged with providing service to the mentally ill and homeless,” said Jim Pasco of the 325,000-member Fraternal Order of Police. “Where does it all end?” Bill Fitzpatrick, district attorney in Onondaga County, N.Y., and president of the National District Attorneys Association, questions the theory behind LEAD. “How is a cop supposed to determine at the street level if a guy is mentally ill or is just high on synthetic marijuana or some other designer drug or is play-acting because he knows the rules of the game?” he said.

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