Pubdate: Sun, 01 Mar 2015
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2015 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Gregg Bernstein
Note: Gregg Bernstein is a partner at Zuckerman Spaeder LLP and a 
former Baltimore City state's attorney.


In Baltimore City, approximately 20,000 people were arrested for 
drug-related offenses annually in 2012 and 2013; nearly three 
quarters for simple possession. And while there has been a great deal 
of discussion over the last few years regarding the incarceration of 
individuals for drug crimes, particularly in minority communities, 
the fact is that most drug cases in Baltimore do not result in 
confinement, except for those unfortunate enough not to have the 
funds to post bail while awaiting trial.

Instead, defendants' cases are either dismissed for various reasons 
or defendants are placed on some form of post-conviction supervision. 
Notably, the re-arrest rate for many of these individuals is high.

People may make their own choices whether to use and/or sell drugs, 
but independent decision-making is steadily reduced as factors such 
as addiction and economic disadvantage come into play. Given the 
failure of the "war on drugs" to stop illegal drug use and the 
violent crime that often flows from it, the question becomes how to 
end this cycle of arrest and re-arrest and the concomitant 
expenditure of resources to deal with these cases in ways that will 
meaningfully reduce crime.

The city of Seattle has tried a different approach.

Under Seattle's Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program (LEAD), 
eligible low-level drug and prostitution offenders are diverted to 
communitybased treatment and support services at the time of arrest, 
thereby avoiding prosecution and incarceration. Here's how it works: 
When an eligible individual is arrested for a drug or prostitution 
offense, a trained police officer has the discretion to refer the 
arrestee to a designated case worker in lieu of booking the 
individual into jail to await trial.

The LEAD case worker conducts an assessment of the individual at the 
police precinct and connects him or her with services that most 
address their needs, which may include drug treatment, housing, 
education, job placement, transportation, child care and other services.

If the individual does not take advantage of the assistance offered 
or is re-arrested, he or she may ultimately be prosecuted for the 
arrested offense.

Significantly, unlike traditional drug courts in which the defendant 
must first plead guilty and be subject to incarceration if he or she 
does not abstain from drug use or does not otherwise comply with the 
conditions of supervision, there is a recognition that the process of 
changing the individual's destructive behavior is a long and 
difficult one, and the person may continue in the program even if 
complete abstinence from drug use is not immediately achieved.

LEAD has been operating in a downtown Seattle neighborhood for the 
past two years, and the results have been positive.

The recidivism rate of individuals participating in the program has 
been substantially reduced compared to a control group, resulting in 
a cost reduction in judicial resources and crime generally, not to 
mention the positive impact in providing important services for those 
affected and eliminating their destructive behavior caused by 
addiction. Officials are now discussing expanding the LEAD formula 
city-wide. The city of Santa Fe, N.M., recently started a similar 
program modeled on LEAD, and the Open Society Institute is looking to 
expand the LEAD model internationally.

Equally significant has been the impact on the relationship between 
the community and the police.

Citizens who live in the neighborhoods where LEAD has been operating 
have been uniform in noting the improvement in police-citizen 
interactions. Police officers are no longer viewed as simply 
government agents who arrest people, often during emotionally and 
physically confrontational circumstances, but as community officers 
assisting individuals with drug-related problems and other 
debilitating issues like homelessness and mental illness. Indeed, 
officers participating in LEAD are also permitted to refer 
individuals to LEAD-based services through "social contacts" when 
engaging people in situations that do not involve arrest, which has 
the added benefit of helping police officers understand the range of 
problems confronting citizens living in disadvantaged neighborhoods 
who struggle to sustain basic needs.

The result is a re-evaluation by both officers and citizens of 
entrenched biases and prejudices.

One other important lesson learned from Seattle's LEAD is that 
cooperation and collaboration is possible among different agencies 
with diverse priorities which often are in adversarial relationships. 
In order for a program like LEAD to work, there must be buy-in from 
the entire spectrum of criminal justice and social agencies including 
police, prosecutors, social services, community leaders, elected 
officials and others.

Baltimore is an ideal city for a pilot program, provided these 
diverse groups have the collective will to devote the human resources 
and police training necessary to provide meaningful services to some 
of our most distressed citizens.

We have heard much of the distrust and animosity that exists between 
police and citizens. A LEAD-based program could go a long way toward 
rebuilding that trust and serving the dual goal of both breaking the 
cycle of addiction and destructive behavior that negatively impacts 
our communities and forging strong, cooperative and mutually 
respectful relationships between the police and the citizens they 
have sworn to protect.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom