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Chapter 3

LEAD Enrollment

Why Divert?

For the people LEAD is designed to serve, diversion makes sense because jail and prosecution generally don’t foster behavior change.

Law enforcement has become a catch-all response

Over the years, law enforcement and the 911 emergency system have become a catch-all response to all kinds of problems in the United States, for everything from life-threatening emergencies to reports of people sleeping in doorways or disrupting a business. In many cases, such as when physical safety is threatened, police response may be necessary and appropriate.

But as officers know firsthand, when it comes to people whose unlawful or problematic conduct stems from unmet behavioral health needs, booking them into jail and sending them to court over and over doesn’t cause any real change.

So communities are left to ask: What can we do instead? Without a solid answer, there is a public expectation of action from police–even when they don’t hold the needed tools to actually make a difference in the situation beyond immediately removing the person from where they were encountered.

By building a coordinated response that diverts people away from the criminal legal system and into street-based, ongoing case management, with multi-disciplinary coordination among partners, LEAD equips communities with a new way to address problems for which detention and prosecution are unlikely to prove effective.

Three Doors into LEAD

There are three ways a person can be referred to LEAD. You can think of these as three doors to the same room:

  1. Arrest diversion
  2. Social contact referrals
  3. Community referrals

Arrest Diversion

When an officer has probable cause for arrest, arrest diversion gives officers the opportunity to refer people to LEAD via a warm hand-off to a LEAD case manager, instead of jailing them on divertible charges. Ideally, this warm handoff can occur within 30 minutes, though this can be difficult in remote areas.

LEAD sites determine eligibility for arrest diversions

Based on its own local needs and priorities, each LEAD site’s PCG determines the unlawful conduct they wish to make eligible for diversion. Over time, the PCG can also expand the array of divertible charges.

When LEAD was originally developed in Seattle, for example, the only divertible charges were low-level drug use, possession, or subsistence-level drug sales, along with prostitution. Over time, however, many jurisdictions (including Seattle) expanded the array of divertible charges to include other offenses for which people with unmet behavioral health needs are commonly arrested.

This process to determine divertible charges is an essential element of local self-determination for LEAD sites, to ensure that the divertible charges reflect local priorities and are supported by local stakeholders.

Thus, in developing eligibility criteria, it is essential to solicit widespread input from various stakeholders – including the criminal legal system, businesses, health systems, direct-service providers, and advocacy groups – and analyze local data to identify the problematic or unlawful conduct that your LEAD initiative hopes to address.

This is a Core Principle

Social Contact Referrals

Social contact referrals recognize that law enforcement officers may have frequent and repeated contact with people in their precincts who chronically commit law violations due to unmet behavioral health needs and/or income instability. Social contact referrals allow officers to proactively refer these individuals to LEAD without making an arrest. Such referrals may be made pre-arrest (officers may have probable cause to arrest but decide on another path), or they can be offered in the course of ordinary contact with individuals, rather than in response to any particular incident.

To avoid net-widening, individuals referred into LEAD via social contact referrals should be generally known to be people who chronically commit law violations, and they must face no consequences if they decline to enroll.

LEAD sites must develop policies and protocols for these referrals

As with arrest diversions, LEAD sites must develop policies and protocols for managing social contact referrals, to foster effective communication between officers and case managers and to ensure timely, active follow-up by case managers to locate and engage potential participants. Some sites may have the desire and capacity to provide immediate “warm handoff” response for social contact referrals as well as for arrest diversions; that is a local variation up to each community.

This is a Core Principle

Community Referrals

In both arrest diversions and social contact referrals, law enforcement officers are the portal into LEAD. In contrast, community referrals do not come through law enforcement; instead, sites that allow community referrals develop policies and practices that let community partners recommend potential candidates to LEAD directly.

LEAD sites indicate who can make a community referral and how

Depending on the policies set by the PCG, referrals might be made only by partner organizations, for example, or they could be triaged by the city’s 911 or 988 systems, or a 311 non-emergency response system using specific LEAD criteria, or via another crisis response dispatch system. A site might also decide to allow community members – such as businesses or residents – to make such referrals by directly accessing a LEAD referral portal via a QR code, fillable form, or phone call to a LEAD project manager.

Because community referrals offer a wider door into LEAD, and because demand would swamp available resources if all potentially eligible candidates were referred in a short period of time, it’s important to develop prioritization agreements, and not to invite a scope of referrals that exceeds what the program has the resources to respond to.

Core Eligibility Criteria

For both social contact referrals and community referrals, there is no diverted charge. To set policies that respect LEAD’s purpose, such referrals must satisfy at least these criteria:

  • there is reason to believe the individual referred chronically commits law violations (may include civil infractions) related to behavioral health issues and/or extreme poverty, and
  • there will be a public expectation of criminal legal system response if there is not an alternative intervention. In this way, LEAD resources are prioritized for individuals at greatest risk of otherwise being pulled unnecessarily into the criminal legal system.
This is a Core Principle

Exclusionary Criteria

Arrest diversions

It is typical for sites to establish some exclusionary criteria for arrest diversion, out of concern that individuals with extensive serious criminal history, who could have been booked into jail but were not, could jeopardize the framework for diversion to community-based care if they committed a serious crime in the aftermath of a LEAD arrest diversion. This is a reasonable concern even if LEAD partners know that it’s unlikely that processing the person through the legal system as usual would have avoided the future incident either.

Criminal history exclusions from eligibility for arrest referral should be limited, and it should be possible for sergeants or commanders to override them in individual cases where in-field diversion makes the most sense under all the circumstances.

Social contact and community referrals

For social contact referrals and community referrals, the logic of criminal history exclusions from eligibility does not hold water. These individuals are already in the community and there is no present legal authority to take them into custody. Providing them access to LEAD case management can only improve community safety, even if the individual has substantial serious history.

In social contact and community referrals, therefore, there should be no automatic criminal history exclusions. However, individual referrals may be vetted by project managers, case management supervisors, and other partners to share any insights from known criminal history, to the extent this sheds light on potential risk to staff or on the referred person’s needs and situation.

This is a Core Principle

Enrolling into LEAD

Enrolling into LEAD requires an individual to do only two things: (i) Complete a psychosocial intake interview, and (ii) sign a multi-party release of information allowing LEAD partners to appropriately share information, while abiding by LEAD’s Golden Rule that no one can be worse off because they participate in LEAD.

Step 1: Psychosocial Intake Interview

As one of the requirements of enrollment, people referred to LEAD will work with a case manager to complete a psychosocial intake interview. Ideally, this intake interview can be completed very soon after the arrest diversion – sometimes, on the same day, but later if the individual is not in a mental or physical state to engage in a long discussion. It is considered a LEAD best practice to ensure that an interview is completed within 30 days of the arrest diversion, but that can be extended by agreement of the referring officer or sergeant if case managers have a specific reason to believe they can succeed with more time, or if the individual has been incapacitated (in jail or hospital, for example).

This is a Core Principle
Step 2: Multi-Party Release of Information

The multi-party release of information (ROI) is the essential precondition for ongoing care coordination among LEAD operational partners, allowing case managers to share information as needed and appropriate with police, prosecutors, judges, other care providers, and even neighborhood businesses and government officials, if to do so is in the participant’s interest.

This is a Core Principle
In the case of arrest diversion, there is a 24 hour non-return request

Individuals who are diverted post-arrest are asked by case managers not to return to the location where they were arrested for 24 hours after their release. The 24 hour non-return request is to reduce neighborhood frustration with the decision to divert, and it’s an important gesture toward the officer who made the choice to call case managers instead of taking someone to jail. If someone does head right back to that location, officers could make a jail booking decision. If the diverted person has a pressing need to return to the area, the case manager will coordinate with the arresting officer or sergeant to share that information.

Modifications may be made for operational capacity

In many sites, it can be initially difficult to establish the operational capacity to enable real-time, in-field arrest diversions/warm handoffs 24/7 throughout a given jurisdiction. As a result, many sites begin with a modified version – perhaps by limiting the precincts, neighborhoods, or operational hours when immediate in-field response will be available, or by providing the site’s case management agency with contact information gathered by the officers, for follow-up with the potential participant, who is simply investigated and released from the station, precinct or patrol car.

Though this is not a violation of LEAD core principles, it is not optimal – the warm handoff is by far the most effective point of contact, and it feels more effective to officers to have case managers respond in real time. As well, it will be far more difficult for case managers who didn’t meet the individual at the point of arrest to locate the person later. In such cases, it is extremely important to ensure that follow-up is immediate, active, ongoing, and in the field, so as to reach and engage people as soon as possible.