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Editorial: LEAD program may help break cycle of low-level ABQ crime

It’s easy to understand why crime-weary residents of Bernalillo County might subscribe to the “lock ’em up” approach to policing. The level of drugs and property crime and the fact that we’re a national leader in auto theft aren’t just things you read about. They touch people’s lives.

But in many cases, “lock ’em up” isn’t smart or effective. Local law enforcement is implementing a better way.

The Albuquerque Police Department last week announced it is joining other agencies in a behavioral health initiative that 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 … and get them help so they don’t re-offend,” APD Deputy Chief Eric Garcia said alongside Mayor Tim Keller and District Attorney Raúl Torrez as they announced the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program.

Low-level crimes eligible for the program, which APD will start with officers in the International District, include minor drug possession, prostitution, vagrancy, loitering and property crime committed to feed an addiction. Anyone accused of a violent felony, crimes against children or drug-dealing for profit would not be eligible. In cases where there is a victim, the victim would have to agree to the diversion.

“This is not a ‘get-out-of-jail-free card,'” Garcia said. “They’ll still be accountable for any future crimes.”

Sam Howarth, Bernalillo County Behavior Health administrator, said BCSO has trained 30 deputies and there are plans to have enough case managers to juggle nearly 200 cases.

The District Attorney’s Office already has a strategy of focusing resources on serious crime, repeat offenders and defendants who are part of a criminal network, and Metro Court has had success with its drug court. LEAD is another important piece of the puzzle and a smart use of law enforcement resources – one that offers a real opportunity to help people break the cycle of drug addiction and crime before they become the kind of career criminals who should be locked up.

The aforementioned crime-weary residents of Bernalillo County should mark the date and expect a report a year from now on the program’s roll-out and results.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.