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SF drug program gets national exposure

SANTA FE – Law enforcement officials here will have the opportunity to teach agencies from around the country about a new program combating opiate use at a White House conference next week.

Mayor Javier Gonzales, District Attorney Angela “Spence” Pacheco and state director of the Drug Policy Alliance Emily Kaltenbach will travel with other local officials to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday to talk about a program that keeps low-grade drug offenders out of the court system.

The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program was implemented in May 2014. The program gives people over 18 who are found with three grams or less of opiates like pills or heroin the option to enter the program instead of facing jail time. Kaltenbach said Santa Fe is the second city in the nation, behind Seattle, to implement such a program, and that law enforcement agencies from across the country are gaining interest.

“As people look at dealing with mass incarceration and reforming our policing strategies and dealing with the failed war on drugs — we need a new approach,” Kaltenbach said. “It’s Seattle and Santa Fe that can teach the rest of the nation.

“Many of these folks are also engaged in small property crimes. They’ll have a syringe on them, or it’s clear that they’re doing this to support an addiction. They can choose to participate in LEAD or go to jail. You don’t have that arrest record that’s hanging over you.” A new residential burglary or a history violence are disqualifiers.

The program gives allows the responding officer to give an offender the chance to enter the program before being booked or charged with an offense.

Once in the program, the candidate is assigned a case manager that handles any needs they might have to fight their addiction. It’s all done in an attempt to curb incarceration numbers for nonviolent drug offenders and help them avoid felony charges.

“These people are either constantly going through treatment or the criminal justice system.” Kaltenbach said. “Treatment is housing, it’s job placement, it’s education, it’s childcare — if we can’t support those basic needs in the most humane way, then this person is never going to have a chance to be a productive member of our community.”

About 36 people are now in the program, financed with city, county and private dollars, but plans are to triple participants as the program gains traction.

Law enforcement officials from San Francisco, Baltimore, Atlanta, Chicago and Houston will be in attendance at next week’s conference. The Ford Foundation and the John and Laura Arnold Foundation will fund the trip for Santa Fe participants.