Addressing Public Safety Through Public Health: Bringing Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) to Buffalo
Special Projects Fund
October 1, 2019
Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) is an evidence-based, harm-reduction oriented program designed to reduce low-level arrests and recidivism while promoting better health outcomes.
Instead of making an arrest for certain criminal offenses (such as low-level drug charges), police officers, prosecutors, and defense attorneys work together to divert individuals directly to a case manager. Rather than entering the maze of the criminal justice system, the individual receives intensive case management and targeted social services, with greater coordination among systems of care. Research finds that LEAD reduces recidivism by 58% and preliminary program data indicate it improves the health of people struggling at the intersection of poverty, drug use, and mental health problems. With NYSHealth support, community organizations in Albany and on Staten Island collaborated with government agencies, policymakers, private funders, and other stakeholders to launch successful LEAD programs. To further replicate this successful program, NYSHealth awarded a grant in 2019 to the Partnership for the Public Good (PPG) to pilot a LEAD program in Buffalo and help mainstream a public health and community-oriented approach to public safety.
Under this grant, PPG will support a pilot of LEAD in Buffalo where, despite the Buffalo Police Department’s community policing initiatives, more than 35% of its arrests are still for low-level charges. PPG will support the current Buffalo/Erie County LEAD working group, helping it to build its capacity and recruit additional allies among policymakers and community leaders. Community-based organizations participating in the working group will provide expertise and strategy on the design of the Buffalo LEAD pilot, engage other community-based organizations, provide resident education, and conduct public messaging to build support. In addition, PPG will engage the Katal Center to provide technical assistance to the working group and offer expertise based on its work to replicate LEAD on Staten Island. PPG will produce a policy belief on how LEAD is different from existing programs because of its pre-arrest and harm-reduction approach, as well as its impact on public health, public safety, and reduction of incarceration rates. A toolkit on implementing LEAD in Buffalo will be developed to help other stakeholders successfully implement the citywide program and ensure long-term sustainability. Finally, PPG will organize educational convenings, roundtables, and workshops for policymakers, service providers, community organizations, residents, and law enforcement/justice system officials to promote LEAD as a promising public health solution and alternative to the criminal justice system.