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.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@mi-reporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.mi-reporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

[flipp]

More in News

Mercer Island police car. File photo.
Taylor Swift CD stolen; Baja Blast, cake and cigarettes swiped at Chevron | Police blotter

A sampling from the most recent Mercer Island police blotter.

Stock image
Campgrounds to reopen in 22 Washington counties

Campgrounds in counties actively in Phase 2 of the reopening plan will begin to welcome visitors June 1, state says.

King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht. FILE PHOTO
King County sheriff releases message about Minneapolis Police officer

Mitzi Johanknecht calls video of officer kneeling on neck of George Floyd ‘heartbreaking and disturbing’

How is COVID-19 affecting Mercer Island?

A new King County data dashboard shows city-specific case rates, unemployment numbers and more.

File photo of construction near North Bend on Aug. 16. Sound Publishing file photo
                                File photo of construction near North Bend on Aug. 16. Sound Publishing file photo
Rural King County mayors want state to let them enter Phase 2

Mayors cite heavy economic damage from prolonged shutdown.

New dashboard shows how far along King County is to meeting Phase II metrics

The county has met more than half its goals, but the ones it hasn’t met are critical in determining how many people are still being infected, and how quickly people are being tested.

Most Read