By Terry DeMio
This summer, Hamilton County will test a program that will let police reach out to drug users and other low-level offenders and, instead of jailing them, lead them to the skills and treatment they need to improve their lives.
Hamilton County commissioners are expected to vote Thursday to approve the pre-arrest diversion program, an attempt to deal with the heroin and fentanyl epidemic while reducing the jail population.
The county program, which also will need approval from Cincinnati City Council, is modeled after one that started in Seattle in 2011. Called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), it has spurred 30 communities nationwide to adopt it. Another 70 are studying the program as a possibility for their cities.
In Seattle, police officers may use their discretion to refer individuals to case managers who are educated in trauma and its effects on people. The case managers are backed up by other staff to get a wide range of support services, each tailored to the individual.
“LEAD is about walking a long path with people, who often come from very grim circumstances, (to) help them become stabilized, healthy and have hope,” said Lisa Daugaard, who’s on staff of the LEAD National Bureau in Seattle. “Treatment is part of that journey, but it’s not the only need that people have.”