Portland and Multnomah County leaders, public safety officials, service providers, business owners, residents and the media filled the third-floor classroom of Central City Concern’s Old Town Recovery Center for the official launch of LEAD® or Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion.
The highly anticipated pilot project, which originated from a successful pilot in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood in 2011, allows Portland police officers to divert people involved in low-level drug activity away from jail and prosecution and into intensive case management and services, if they choose.
Like Seattle’s program, Multnomah County LEAD® is designed to address the underlying barriers that contribute to cycles of addiction and subsequent criminal justice involvement.
“This broad group of people,” said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury in reference to public safety partners, “were brought together by the fact that we didn’t like the outcomes and the costs of our criminal justice system status quo, especially for individuals struggling with addiction.”
“The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners recognizes that more jail beds isn’t a blanket answer to the question of how we can make our community safer," she continued "And many times, it’s the wrong answer.”
On Monday, February 27, Local Public Safety Coordinating Council Executive Director Abbey Stamp, Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill, Lane Borg, Executive Director of Metropolitan Public Defender Services, Mayor Ted Wheeler, Central City Concern Chief Medical Officer Rachel Solotaroff and Chair Deborah Kafoury spoke to media and guests.
The program will start in and around downtown: namely Old Town and the Lloyd Center, with goals to expand with demonstrated success.
Under the program, a Portland police officer who has grounds to arrest someone for certain low-level drug possession charges will instead call Central City Concern’s case management team for an initial screening.
Officers also have the ability to refer someone who may have a high risk of arrest for a future LEAD® eligible offense to the program through a social contract process.
“Law enforcement officers will be a bridge between individuals and services,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said. “This important shift in paradigm will build individual and community relationships with law enforcement."
LEAD® participants must complete an in-depth assessment, ideally within two days but ultimately within 30 days after arrest, for the case not to be filed. A case manager will address immediate needs, then work on a self-directed action plan that includes assistance for housing, treatment, education, job training, job placement, child care, and even clothes for work.
Case managers check in frequently and shape case plans according to a person’s self-identified needs and goals.
The program’s goals include reducing the number of low level offenders in jail and their re-offense rates; decreasing the number of people of color prosecuted for low-level drug possession; and reducing the harm that drug offenders cause themselves and the community.
“Jail doesn’t stop people from relapsing or help people move towards recovery,” said Local Public Safety Coordinating Council Executive Director Abbey Stamp at the press conference Monday. “Intensive case management, support, and individualized services, however, will.
If a participant relapses, they are not discharged from the program. They are given a second chance as long as they continue to show progress.
“Their struggles with addiction are the same, in many ways, as those of my patients with diabetes: They need counseling and medication, they need support and meaningful ways to spend their time, they need income and proper housing, they have good days and bad days, relapses and remissions,” said Central City Concern Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rachel Solotaroff.
“Their success does not come overnight, or with one visit to a doctor.”
And yet, unlike patients with diabetes, people with substance use disorders have struggled to find treatment and to keep themselves and their families out of harm’s way, she continued.
“So what LEAD® does is give them the care they need, tailored to how and where they need it, without fear.”
Portland Police Chief Mike Marshman, Public Defender Lane Borg and District Attorney Rod Underhill lauded LEAD®’s mission and its success in Seattle. LEAD® participants were 58 percent less likely to be arrested after enrollment in the LEAD® program in Seattle, compared to those who went through the “system as usual” criminal justice processing.
The program has been replicated in at least seven other cities, including Baltimore, Albany and Santa Fe. Nine cities are developing a program.
“It’s the first in the country of a harm-reduction model as it relates to drug addiction and prosecution,” District Attorney Rod Underhill said when referencing the Seattle pilot during a speech rebroadcast on KBOO.fm’s Prison Pipeline program last August.
Underhill described a longstanding lawsuit brought by numerous members of the community about the disproportionate number of people of color arrested for drug-related offenses in King County.
“Years worth of litigation and a lot of frustration on a lot of folks’ part, no doubt. What came out of that was a desire to come up with something that could help make our community better and they came up with the LEAD® model.”
The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners allocated $800,000 in the 2017 fiscal year budget to develop, launch, implement and evaluate LEAD®.
Chair Kafoury stressed that as the program moves forward, team members are committed to studying its impact.
“We’ll watch LEAD®’s impact on the quality of life in our community and the lives of individual participants. Together, we can improve the way government works and improve lives along the way.”
Click here to view a news segment on LEAD®.