Military and Police

LEAD and Other Diversion Programs: Do They Work?

Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) is a program adopted by local governments to provide their police officers with a tool to aid drug-addicted “petty” criminals in getting treatment> and avoiding jail. Local government leaders feel this will reduce both crime and substance abuse. At least, that’s what proponents tell you it will do. But, as with all programs that look good on paper, the implementation can result in something other than promised because LEAD and other diversion programs seem so often abused.

The idea is police officers, rather than charge addicts they arrest for low-level offenses and then refer them for prosecution, would divert them into social programs intended to help them end their drug or alcohol dependency. However, I wonder if leftist governments use these types of programs, instead, to obfuscate their social justice goals. And these goals seem too often to place the welfare of drug-addicted criminals over that of law-abiding, tax-paying residents.

Seattle adopted the program in 2011. Now, King County, of which Seattle is the county seat, is implementing LEAD through the sheriff’s office. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, the recent Republican-turned-Democrat, says the “LEAD program expansion will get people off drugs.” What else would he say? After all, it seems he changed parties just to assure his re-election.

Well, let me ask this: Has drug use in Seattle diminished since 2011? Since this city is an infamous center of the opioid epidemic, it doesn’t seem so. A Seattle-King County Health Department report shows drug overdoses rose from 348 in 2016 to 379 in 2017. That’s an increase to an average of more than one dead human being per day due to drug abuse.

Also, anecdotal evidence shows alternatives to arrest haven’t worked as intended. The abundant needles Seattleites are finding strewn across their yards, flowerbeds, or their business’ landscaping and parking lots located near transient camps are a clue.

Or you can ask any beat cop. But, wait. Why would leftist politicians want to ask cops, or residents directly affected by crime stemming from failed leftist policies, whether a program works as intended?

Incidentally, I recently heard on a radio show how frustrated business people are whose offices or stores are near transient camps. Business owners across the country say the problem is so bad they now have to train their employees in how to handle and dispose of syringes with hypodermic needles addicts dispose of on their properties.

A headline at www.bisnow.com reads, “The Opioid Epidemic Is Turning Commercial Buildings into Deadly Hazmat Zones, And No One Knows What to Do About It.” Oh, Seattle and King County do. More diversion programs, which make it easier for druggies to do drugs and avoid being locked up for their crimes.

Employers and employees have to risk their health and safety because, in Seattle, the city will pick up needles on public but not private property. Nice, eh? The city causes the public property problem that leaks onto residents’ private property. Leftist politicians then leave business owners and residents to fend for themselves.

Again, the city sides with wrongdoers over the law-abiding. It allows illegal camping where the drug abuse occurs, then leaves residents and business owners to contend with drug users’ toxic waste.

So, has Seattle’s LEAD program been such a success they should replicate it county-wide? Well, it depends on who you ask. If you ask proponents, like Satterberg, also a supporter of “safe” heroin injection sites, they’ll rave about its success. They’ll laud the one “independent” University of Washington study, limited in scope and duration, which asserts the program has had some success. Conservatives hardly regard academia as a trusted source.

You always have to remain skeptical when an academic study tells you not to believe your own eyes and experience. Ask cops, especially street cops, about LEAD and other diversion programs, and you’ll find they are far more skeptical—even cynical—for good reason.

And even if the program works for some people, how many? And how many people does it allow to avoid the consequences of their criminal acts? How many people avoid incarceration and continue victimizing good people?  How many criminal addicts are being diverted who don’t meet the criteria? Cops now say not only are the city and county decriminalizing drugs but also they are decriminalizing crime. And diversion programs like LEAD are a part of the strategy.

Police officers will tell you that diversion programs can help only those who want help. I thought that notion has been pretty well-established. Unfortunately, it seems the city and county are using the program to further their progressive goals. Another program that will ignore the rule of law and ensure social justice prevails over equal justice.

Watching the recent Judge Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation circus, I don’t think I have to tell any conservative, libertarian, independent, or lucid liberal the lengths to which the neo-socialist leftists will go. Hell, they’ve already staged a successful coup to take over the Democratic Party. They didn’t hesitate to destroy a good man, his wife, and children.

Remember, to the far left, the ends justify the means. The immoral and unethical behavior is truly disgusting. So, why would leftists hesitate to mistreat their own law-abiding constituents, so they can help those who refuse to help themselves and who victimize those constituents? They wouldn’t.

Just look at the recent case of a 15-year-old juvenile suspected gang member arrested in Burien, Washington. Police took the youth into custody from a car in which the occupants had guns. Officers could see the people in the car switching seats, holding guns, and trying to hide the weapons. Apparently, the driver had a suspended license.

Reportedly, this teen gangbanger is on probation, has a previous firearms conviction, and a current open case for possessing a firearm on school grounds. And he has benefitted from a diversion program meant to keep him out of jail and, instead, seated at that desk next to your child. You know, like the diversion program that benefitted the school shooter in Parkland, Florida.

Is there a future victim out there whose name is on one of this kid’s bullets? Though King County political leaders talk about reducing “gun violence,” when officers brought him to the juvenile detention facility (Youth Service Center), officials declined to accept him.

“A system where juveniles are released from custody over and over again despite multiple firearm charges is not in the best interest of community safety,” Burien Police Chief Ted Boe said. He’s right.

Reports show the arresting officers couldn’t positively say the teen had possessed any of the guns found in the car. Although, other reporting shows the teen allegedly told officers where he’d stashed a gun in the car. Officers later located the gun, where the teen said it was, after getting a search warrant for the vehicle. Nevertheless, youth center officials said the teen’s situation didn’t meet their criteria for admittance.

Hold on! The kid is a gang member, on probation, had been “diverted,” has an open gun possession case—in a schooland police had just arrested him among other people in a car which contained illegal firearms. What am I missing?

Just shows leftists are not against gun crimes; they’re against guns, and, for social justice reasons, they’re against prosecuting criminals who use guns. Officers had no choice but to bring the teen home and release him to his parents. So much for a deterrent. Yes, diversion works so much better, doesn’t it?

Now, this specific case may not have resulted from LEAD per se, but it illustrates similar results cops fear will happen from any misused and abused diversion program.

Still, cops are not automatically opposed to diversion programs. Some well-administered programs may be appropriate for some offenders. I know people who’ve benefitted from diversion programs.

For example, it can help the first-time, non-violent, low-level offender addict who wants help. Someone for whom the crime committed is an anomaly, not a way of life. But it’s also well-documented that most folks living on the streets refuse any services when offered.

But what if you have a diversion “carrot” but no deterrent “stick” to use as leverage? What if a county prosecutor decided he would not prosecute any drug possession of up to one gram, which King County wants to do? Well, if I were a drug-using street criminal, I’d decide that I’d only carry—oh, I don’t know, I’ll pick an amount out of the air—one gram of heroin or cocaine at a time.

With the effort to decriminalize possession of one gram or less of hard drugs, officers won’t be arresting anyone. Especially, even if they possess over one gram, they are to be diverted through LEAD. Do local governments, as many cops think, want to de-criminalize all drugs?

Well, it sure seems, unless someone has a brick of black tar heroin or cocaine on them, King County won’t prosecute them. (Hyperbole? Maybe, but it sure seems to be the case.) Again, a social justice policy overriding the law. If you can’t or won’t change a law you don’t like through the legal process available, just ignore it, or pursue your goals through a “diversion” program.

To show you how much of a “success” the program has been, when I texted my cop friends, asking if Seattle still had a LEAD program, the responses were telling. Several didn’t know, one thought maybe, but it was only in the West Precinct, and the only one who knew for sure we still had it, said it didn’t matter. I asked why. He said, “Because nobody makes drug arrests anymore, so there’s no one to divert.” He continued, “I don’t think there’s any cop with less than five years on the job who knows how to do a VUCSA arrest.”

VUCSA stands for a Violation of the Uniform Controlled Substance Act. From the Act’s language: “This Uniform Act was drafted to maintain uniformity between the laws of the several States and those of the federal government. It has been designed to complement the federal law and provide an interlocking trellis of federal and state law to enable government at all levels to control more effectively the drug abuse problem.”

Here’s an example of how a prosecutor can discourage drug arrests. My partner and I were both field training officers (FTO). During a time when we both had student officers and were working separate cars, we did a foot beat with our students in an area known for drug and other criminal activity.

As we patrolled Freeway Park, which is full of concrete walls with many nooks and crannies, we peered over a wall into one of those nooks. The four of us saw two men holding syringes about to inject, one into his leg and the other into his arm. We contacted the men before they could inject the suspected heroin. We didn’t necessarily make the arrests because of how we personally felt about drug laws; we did it because we’re cops, and it’s our duty to enforce the law—especially when it’s this blatant.

Because we had students, we were particularly focused on making sure our students conducted proper prisoner and evidence processing. We arrested the men and collected the suspected dope from the syringes and entered it into evidence.

Okay, here’s my recollection of our case for the prosecutor: Four police officer eye-witnesses to two men holding syringes, about to inject a brown liquid substance that had tested positive for heroin.

This was our response from the prosecutor: Decline. Reason: Lack of Evidence. The suspects were likely “diverted,” plea-bargained, or had their cases dismissed.

From then on, the only drug cases I processed were those I’d gotten into inadvertently. Why in the world would any cop waste all that time again? And, being libertarian/conservative, I understand the argument for legalizing adult recreational drug use. So, it wasn’t like I was on a holy crusade to bust junkies, anyway.

But for me, the issue is not drug legalization vs. prohibition. The issue is if you don’t like a law, don’t do what leftists so often do: ignore the law, enforce it unequally, or issue policies that prevent police from enforcing existing laws. There’s a process for changing or revoking laws you don’t like. Washington voters demonstrated this when they voted to make marijuana legal.

However, as we’re seeing with the left’s calculated, vicious personal destruction of an outstanding Supreme Court nominee, the left cares little for civility, the rule of law, or equal justice. This leftist behavior is pervasive throughout the nation at all levels of government. And it’s also on display in Seattle and King County, as they continue to promote programs, like LEAD, that help them ignore laws they don’t like, enforce other laws unequally, and continue to work toward creating that social justice utopia they long for so badly.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Steve Pomper

Steve Pomper is an OpsLens contributor, a retired Seattle police officer, and the author of four non-fiction books, including De-Policing America: A Street Cop’s View of the Anti-Police State. You can read a review of this new book in Front Page Magazine and listen to an interview with Steve on the Joe Pags Show. Steve was a field-training officer, on the East Precinct Community Police Team, and served his entire career on the streets. He has a BA in English Language and Literature. He enjoys spending time with his kids and grand-kids. He loves to ride his Harley, hike, and cycle with his wife, Jody, a retired firefighter. You can find out more about Steve and send him comments and questions at www.stevepomper.com.

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