In Portland, police can provide referrals to social services when no violent victimization

By Doug McVay, Editor, Drug War Facts.

I recently interviewed the chair of the Multnomah County Commission about the county’s implementation of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program (Multnomah is comprised of Portland, Oregon and a couple of suburbs). I spoke at the same time with the official who’s actually administering the program. That interview airs July 23 on the Prison Pipeline show on KBOO radio in Portland, Oregon. The hope is that some good positive publicity about the program will help in convincing other city and county leaders to expand it further.

LEAD has been up and running here for nearly a year in the Portland area and they’ve had some success, though it’s quite limited because so few officers are involved in the program, at least at the moment. The expansion in May brought the number of officers up to just 15. The program now includes a few other neighborhoods in the city.

The idea behind LEAD is for police in the program to provide referrals to social services to people for minor quality of life offenses and low-level drug possession, either pre-arrest or following an arrest but before booking. One of the goals is that police should view arrest as a last resort in cases that don’t involve a violent victimization. According to the county, more than half are now pre-arrest diversions, which seems like a sign that police in the LEAD program are buying into the idea.

LEAD was originally developed in Seattle/King County. According to the LEAD National Service Bureau:

“In 2011, in an attempt to move away from the War on Drugs paradigm and to reduce gross racial disparities in police enforcement, LEAD® — a new harm-reduction oriented process for responding to low-level offenses such as drug possession, sales, and prostitution — was developed and launched in Seattle, WA. LEAD® was the result of an unprecedented collaboration between police, prosecutors, civil rights advocates, public defenders, political leaders, mental health and drug treatment providers, housing providers and other service agencies, and business and neighborhood leaders — working together to find new ways to solve problems for individuals who frequently cycle in and out of the criminal justice system under the familiar approach that relies on arrest, prosecution, and incarceration.”

Research published in 2017 in the journal Evaluation and Program Planning found that:

“LEAD participants had 60% lower odds of arrest during the six months subsequent to evaluation entry; and both a 58% lower odds of arrest and 39% lower odds of being charged with a felony over the longer term. These statistically significant differences in arrests and felony charges for LEAD versus control participants indicated positive effects of the LEAD program on recidivism.”

There are currently nineteen fully operational LEAD programs in jurisdictions around the United States. Six of those are certified by the LEAD National Service Bureau. Portland/Multnomah County’s LEAD program is one of those.

More information about LEAD is available at the website for the LEAD National Service Bureau.

Updated: July 23, 2018 — 3:21 pm