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Health initiative aims to reduce recidivism and treat addiction

2nd Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez talks about the L.E.A.D initiative during a press conference in front of the Metropolitan Assessment and Treatment Services center on Wednesday morning. (Matthew Reisen/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Albuquerque Police Department is joining forces with other local law enforcement in a behavioral health initiative aimed at reducing recidivism, helping treat drug addiction in the community and saving taxpayers a little money.

The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, or LEAD, was officially adopted by APD on Wednesday, starting with several officers working out of the International District.

Birthed in Seattle and replicated nationwide, including in Santa Fe, the program gives authorities the discretion to offer treatment to those who commit low-level crimes related to addiction or mental health instead of hauling them to jail.

“We want to try to solve the causes of some of these low-level offenses instead of just taking them to jail; we’d like to get them into treatment, get them help so they don’t re-offend and make our community much safer in the meantime,” APD Deputy Chief Eric Garcia said at a news conference in front of the Metropolitan Assessment and Treatment Services center. Garcia said if the program is successful they hope to implement it all over Albuquerque.

In 2017, more than 450,000 people were behind bars nationwide for drug offenses, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

In this case, low-level crimes include drug possession under 6 grams, prostitution, vagrancy, loitering and property crimes commissioned to feed an addiction.

Any offender who has committed a violent felony, crimes against children, promoting prostitution or drug dealing for profit will not be eligible for diversion.

In cases where there’s a victim, the victim has to agree to diversion.

“One thing I want to say about the LEAD program: it’s not a ‘get out of jail free’ card. They’ll still be held accountable for any future crimes,” Garcia said.

Bernalillo County Behavioral Health administrator Sam Howarth called it the most collaborative effort he’s ever been a part of.

He said the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office started LEAD in July and trained 30 deputies. BCSO has so far made at least four referrals, and all four are still in the program. But with APD getting involved, that number is sure to rise.

“I expect the volume to increase pretty quickly,” Howarth said.

Currently there are two case workers available to handle 25 cases each, but Howarth said they are looking to hire several more case managers with the ability to juggle nearly 200 cases.

“I couldn’t be more excited,” he said. “From day one we’ve met as a group and sort of made this come together and today is like the culmination of it.”

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