King County Moves to Expand Pre-Booking Diversion Program

Three cities could get money to link low-level drug offenders to services and keep them out of jail.

After witnessing the success of a Seattle-based strategy for addressing low-level drug crime by sending offenders to social workers instead of into the criminal-justice system, King County elected leaders now want to expand the program to Burien and other cities in the county’s south end.

At a Sept. 11 press conference, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced that he will include $3.1 million in his coming 2019–20 budget proposal to expand Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), a program launched in Seattle that allows police officers to send low-level drug or prostitution offenders to case managers to help connect them to drug treatment, housing and other services—as opposed to incarcerating them at local jails.

Individuals arrested for minor drug possession charges or prostitution are eligible for LEAD. Participants can’t have any felony convictions for serious violent crimes and other offenses. Their case managers are trained to provide ongoing support for clients despite relapses into drug use or other slip-ups.

“LEAD provides a way for police officers and others to steer people into community-based care without going through arrests or court appearances. It’s a way to reach people not quite ready to help themselves but who need a guiding hand,” Executive Constantine said.

The four-year LEAD pilot program—established in 2011 through private donations and collaboration between law enforcement, prosecutors, and public defenders after the Public Defenders Association sued the Seattle Police Department over racial disparities in drug arrests—was limited to Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, which had experienced a high rate of drug-related crime and arrests. After a University of Washington study found that the program significantly reduced recidivism rates for low-level drug offenders, LEAD was eventually expanded to other neighborhoods in Seattle, and the City of Seattle contributed $4 million to keep the programing going. The program has garnered national recognition and inspired similar efforts in numerous cities such as Santa Fe and Albany, N.Y.

“We know this approach works because we’ve been doing it for the last seven years,” said King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg at the Sept. 11 press conference. “When you try to help people, your outcomes are way better than when you just try to punish people. And that’s what this is all about.”

“The original LEAD program developed proof-of-concept. And it was on a scale that was important in Belltown,” said Lisa Daugaard, director of the Public Defender Association and one of the original architects of LEAD. “The challenge of taking this paradigm to scale is a whole new ballgame. King County is leading the way in showing that we’re serious … [that] we’re going to do something effective and we’re going to do that at scale.”

At the press conference, Satterberg also announced that his office would no longer file charges in cases of drug possession of under three grams, which amount to roughly 1,000 cases per year.

Constantine wants to draw money from the county’s Mental Illness and Drug Dependency (MIDD) sales tax revenue to fund case managers and leased spaces in three cities across King County, starting with Burien. Additional staff at the prosecutor’s office would also be paid for from the allocation. County officials estimate that the funding could serve roughly 100 individuals in each of the three cities annually.

Burien Mayor Jimmy Matta, who is strongly supportive of LEAD, said that the local city council will begin discussions on the idea next week. While cities’ participation in the proposed expansion of LEAD is voluntary, Daugaard told Seattle Weekly that local governments and police departments are eager to be a part of the program. “We’re going to run out of money, not be looking for places to put it,” she said.

The allocation would need to get approved by the King County Council during their budget negotiation process slated to begin at the end of this month after Executive Constantine unveils his 2018-2019 budget proposal. But County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove and budget committee chair said at the Sept. 11 press conference that he “enthusiastically” supports expanding LEAD.

Johnny Bousquet, a former heroin user and LEAD participant, said at the Sept. 11 press conference that the program saved his life. “I’m alive because of this guy right here,” he said, pointing to his case manager, Steven Bass, who was standing beside him. “When I didn’t believe in myself, they believed in me.”

“Instead of being in and out of jail I’m in and out of appointments nowadays,” he added. “Tomorrow I’m probably going to get hired for a new job.”

This post has been updated.

More in News

Zelda Shirk, a junior at Redmond High School, speaks at Hopelink’s Reaching Out luncheon on Oct. 15 with her parents and event co-chairs, Jeff and Lynette Shirk. Katie Metzger/staff photo
Hopelink clients, benefactors and advocates share stories at 23rd annual Reaching Out luncheon

The organization has helped families out of poverty and into more stable situations since 1971.

(Aaron Lavinsky | The Daily World) Brian Basset listens in during a preliminary hearing in Grays Harbor County Superior Court on Monday, June 16, 2014 in Montesano. The court is in the process of setting a new minimum term for Bassett in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
State Supreme Court bans life without parole for juveniles

Washington, along with 20 other states, will no longer sentence juveniles to life without parole.

41st District candidates talk taxes, housing and safety

Mercer Island, Newcastle, and sections of Bellevue, Issaquah, Sammamish, Renton make District 41.

Suspect steals checkbook, lime muddler in car prowl | Police blotter

The Mercer Island police blotter for Oct. 2 through 8.

Metro revises timeline for RapidRide bus expansion

After originally aiming to build 20 additional fast-service bus lines on high demand routes by 2040, King County Metro has changed its construction timelines and put 13 of those projects on hold.

MIHS marches with Puerto Rican students in Homecoming parade

MIHS partners to support Puerto Rican band to march in Rose Parade

State Supreme Court strikes down death penalty

All nine justices found the use of capital punishment in Washington state unconstitutional and racially biased.

‘Technologist and philanthropist’ Paul Allen dies at 65

The Microsoft co-founder and Seahawks owner died from cancer on Monday.

Most Read