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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The Albany Police Department partnered with the COPS Office on a FY2016 Microgrant Award to improve public safety through a new approach to mental health, substance abuse, and poverty-driven contact with law enforcement.
The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program is a project of the Albany (New York) Police Department (APD), designed for pre-arrest diversion of individuals who commit low-level, non-violent offenses driven by addiction, mental illness, homelessness, and poverty. Since its launch in April 2016, it has enrolled more than 200 individuals. The program’s goal is to reorient the APD’s approach to nonviolent offenders from a ‘War on Drugs’ paradigm to one focused on improving public safety through reducing criminal behavior, while building trust within the community and improving quality of life for LEAD participants.
Prior to launching the LEAD Program, community leaders signed a Memorandum of Understanding and established a permanent Policy Coordinating Group oversight board, with voluntary membership and consensus agreement on operations. Leaders from the APD and the offices of the mayor, county executive, and Albany County sheriff were committed to the program, ensuring strong implementation and ongoing support. The APD trained all 342 of its officers in the LEAD program’s protocols and the principles of harm reduction. Subsequently, the department engaged in outreach to community businesses and training presentations to stakeholder groups such as the city council, Albany neighborhood associations, the Islamic Cultural Center of the Capital District, and the University of Albany.
The LEAD program uses harm reduction-based case management and proactive engagement to meet the complex needs of program participants. After their initial diversion and “warm handoff” from officers to a case manager, LEAD participants are offered an array of services to protect immediate health and safety, including opioid overdose prevention training and naloxone distribution. Other short-term psychosocial needs are similarly addressed, such as shelter, food, and emergency medical care. In addition, peer recovery coaches assist participants in navigating systems of care and recovery services. Albany Catholic Charities provides case management services.
The LEAD program owes its success to the positive relationships the APD has created between community members, businesses, and law enforcement. Through the program’s treatment and support services, participants can become stable members of the community—a very positive outcome.
For agencies interested in implementing LEAD or a similar program, the APD recommends partnering with other service providers and community groups in order to gain credibility and trust. Speak to as many community groups as possible in order to have a true feel for what the community wants; and use officers who can effectively engage with the community. One best practice the APD has identified is to form a core group of officers to create the operational protocols to support the program. These core officers should represent a healthy cross section of the department in title, seniority, and unit. The group should also be invested and interested in diversion as an innovative policing method.
The APD plans to continue the LEAD program, but sustainable funding, ideally at the county or even state level, would be beneficial. The department also hopes to increase program capacity, both in case management services and street outreach to potential participants. Ideally the program would also explore various means for program entry without arrest, perhaps through social contact referrals or community partners. In addition, the APD hopes to expand the program to county-wide eligibility, allowing any law enforcement agency within the county to make LEAD diversions. Finally, the department would like to have an evaluator conduct an outcome study to document the program success.
For more information, please see the LEAD webpage and brochure.
Sergeant Benjamin Peterson
Albany Police Department
CP Dispatch Editor Emeritus
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