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A Deeper Dive

Arrest Diversion

Probable Cause for Arrest

A law enforcement officer who has probable cause to make an arrest, and does make an arrest, may offer a referral to LEAD via “warm hand-off” to a LEAD case manager, instead of booking the person into jail and referring them for prosecution. In presenting this possibility, an officer explains that LEAD is a voluntary option and asks whether the person is interested in talking to a LEAD case manager rather than going to jail. This conversation may be with the arresting officer or may be led by a supervising sergeant, depending on each jurisdiction’s procedures.

The conversation about LEAD centers on a general, non-judgmental, open-ended offer of help. It’s important that the officer not frame the offer as providing any specific service, since a plan that makes sense for this person will be determined with their case manager over time. It’s especially important that the option not be referred to as “treatment,” since standard treatment programs may not match the individual’s understanding of their immediate needs, which may be more about protection from violence or a place to stay.

A good script is simple, easy to remember, and doesn’t depend on the individual under arrest feeling ready to confide any particularly sensitive information: “I’m wondering what led you to being out on the corner tonight, Mr. Lewis?” “[Person provides any response.]” “Ah I see. Well it seems like you’re in a pretty rough situation. Would you like some help with that?” The officer should make clear that Mr. Lewis may decline the referral.

If Mr. Lewis agrees to the referral, the officer or sergeant contacts a LEAD case manager who comes to the scene. Where this is done – in a precinct, station, patrol car, or meeting point in the field – is based on what works logistically in a given jurisdiction.

Officers or sergeants prepare paperwork as they would if Mr. Lewis were being investigated and released (I & R’d) and referred for prosecution. This way, if he doesn’t complete the intake process by the deadline (usually 30 days), the case can be pursued as usual. In some jurisdictions, there is an abbreviated report protocol for LEAD referrals if that fits the needs of the police department and prosecutors, which saves officers time.

Conducting the Warm Handoff

Generally arriving within 30 minutes (except in remote areas), the case manager talks with Mr. Lewis about how LEAD works, explains the kind of help LEAD could provide, and asks if he wants to give LEAD a try. If he says yes, the warm handoff out of the legal system and into community-based care happens immediately. At that point, Mr. Lewis is legally released from custody. Mr. Lewis has not waived any rights, so there is no need for defense counsel at the warm handoff.

The case manager will talk with Mr. Lewis, make provision for some basic needs support, perhaps buy a cup of coffee or provide a snack. Most importantly, the case manager will confirm where they can find Mr. Lewis in the coming days. “Where do you usually stay? Where can I find you?” is the key question.

In the early days of implementing a LEAD project, it is especially important that this release not be done in front of other people arrested in the same incident, lest co-defendants believe that the LEAD participant has agreed to be a confidential informant. LEAD is not a confidential informant program, and as it becomes established, this becomes known in the community. At the beginning, however, it is very important to maintain this clarity.