City and County of Albany to Develop Innovative, Evidence-based Process to Reduce Low-Level Arrests, Recidivism, and Racial Disparities

Press Release June 24, 2015
Media Contact

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<p>Albany Police Department: Steven Smith (518) 889-9446<br />
Drug Policy Alliance: gabriel sayegh (646) 335-2264</p>

Albany – Today, city and county officials and community leaders announced that the City and County of Albany will be developing an innovative program to reduce recidivism while advancing public safety and public health. The program is known as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD. Under LEAD, police officers may exercise their discretion and divert individuals for certain low-level criminal offenses like drug possession; instead of being arrested and going through the regular criminal justice process, the individual is referred to a case manager, who then facilitates access to a comprehensive network of social services.

Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion was launched in 2011 in Seattle. LEAD emerged from a growing consensus that the war on drugs has failed, its associated racial disparities are unacceptable, and there is a need for innovative, effective approaches to reduce the number of people unnecessarily entering the criminal justice system. Santa Fe became the second jurisdiction to implement the program in 2014. Albany is the first East Coast city and the third city in the nation to begin developing LEAD.

According to an independent study released in April 2015 by a University of Washington evaluation team, the Seattle LEAD participants were 58% less likely to be re-arrested. They concluded that LEAD shows dramatically more favorable recidivism outcomes compared to the system as usual.

Historically, a relatively small number of individuals in Albany with high needs demand a great deal of police time and resources. They cycle in and out of jail or prisons without ever having their underlying issues — such as untreated mental health and substance use problems, housing, employment, medical needs –addressed. This cycle is expensive for taxpayers and fails to promote public safety and public health. LEAD focuses on addressing some of those underlying problems and stopping this cycle and achieve better outcomes in both public safety and public health.

Over the last year, government and community stakeholders in Albany have met regularly to explore the feasibility for developing a LEAD-like program in Albany. Today, the group — which includes the Albany Police Department, District Attorney, the Mayor's Office, the County Executive and Departments, the Albany County Sheriff, Central District Management Association, the Center for Law and Justice, and the Drug Policy Alliance — announced that they had signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate in developing the program. Developing the program and securing funding should take 6 – 8 months.

Anchored squarely in a harm reduction philosophy, LEAD demonstrates that by linking an individual to a highly coordinated continuum of community-based care – including housing, counseling, job training, drug treatment, mental health services, and healthcare – it is possible to improve community safety and health without over-reliance on jails, criminal prosecution, or courts.

The City and County also announced that it had been selected to attend a national convening about LEAD being co-hosted by the White House next week in Washington, D.C. As the third city to announce a formal effort to launch a LEAD program, Albany is one of a select group of jurisdictions invited to participate in the prestigious gathering. After President Obama’s speech on May 18th about policing, the White House released a fact sheet highlighting LEAD as a promising new approach to address old problems.

“LEAD puts Albany on the cutting edge of smart policing,” said Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan. “It empowers officers to use their judgment to divert people who have committed low-level crimes from jail and prison and get them to the treatment they need. The higher goal is to provide options to help people in our communities become productive, healthy members of society, and LEAD does just that.”

“LEAD gives the department a unique opportunity to engage in a harm reduction model and address the ills of addiction, mental health, and homelessness in the proper forum, all while reducing recidivism,” said Albany Police Chief Brendan Cox. “The LEAD collaboration provides officers with the tools to effectively use discretion to divert offenders away from the Criminal Justice System and into the services that are so desperately needed.”

“We most effectively promote public safety by providing treatment in the community as part of a coordinated system of health and human services — NOT by treating drug use as an intolerable crime and relying upon the mass incarceration of our people,” said Dr. Alice Green, Executive Director of the Center for Law and Justice.

“Time and common sense have led us to the conclusion that our traditional law enforcement response to the chronic public health issues people face does not work,” said Albany County District Attorney P. David Soares. “Best practices dictate that we move in a different direction where public health and public safety merge. We can no longer own the problem. Community assets must be leveraged to ensure the best public safety outcome. Safety is dramatically improved when the needs of people are being met.”

“The LEAD program will introduce innovation and compassion into the criminal justice system, help reduce recidivism and give non-violent offenders a second chance,” said Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy. “County Departments including the Public Defender’s Office, Mental Health and Health have been leaders in this effort and we look forward to working with the Albany Police Department and DA Soares on developing this program here.”

“We are always willing to partner with other law enforcement agencies, public officials, and community groups trying to improve the quality of life in Albany County. This coalition has worked diligently to bring the LEAD Program to Albany, which is designed to divert low-level drug and other offenders into community-based treatment and support, which gets them the services they need, rather than just throwing them in jail,” said Albany County Sheriff Craig D. Apple, Sr. “I believe this program will have a positive impact on public safety and reduce the criminal behavior making those who participate in the program more productive members of society.”

“Today we join with the other community groups in support of developing a LEAD program in Albany, N.Y. As representatives of business and property owners, we have seen the success of LEAD in other communities and are impressed with what they have accomplished,” said Anthony Capece, Executive Director of the Central Avenue Improvement District. “We support the idea of a taking a proactive street level approach for non-violent individuals being diverted into effectively managed services as an alternative to a revolving door judicial system. Therefore, in the long run, we see a LEAD program as a benefit to the business community that will reduce crime, conserve valuable municipal resources and in return create an economic benefit to the community as a whole.”

“Across the country, there’s a strong and growing bi-partisan consensus that it’s time to end the war on drugs and mass incarceration,” said gabriel sayegh, Managing Director of Policy and Campaigns at the Drug Policy Alliance. “But it won’t be the federal government or the state governments that show us the way out of this failed war –it will be cities that show us the way. With this multi-sector group agreeing to collaborate to build a LEAD program, Albany is leading the way in New York to develop innovative approaches to advance community health and public safety.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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