Yesterday the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) announced 12 total awards to communities to support behavioral health and law enforcement partnerships in collaboration with CDHS’ Office of Behavioral Health. The awards will fund two distinct initiatives—Co-Responder Programs and Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD). Eight communities will implement Co-Responder Programs designed to divert individuals experiencing mental health crisis away from arrest and into immediate behavioral health assessment. Four jurisdictions will adopt Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD). Denver and Pueblo Counties along with the Cities of Longmont and Alamosa will implement LEAD. Having been selected through a committee-based application process convened by CDHS, each of the four LEAD-awardee jurisdictions will receive up to $575,000 annually to operate LEAD pilot programs over three years.
LEAD is a pre-booking diversion program designed to promote public health interventions while reducing the role of the criminal justice system in the management of substance use-related problems. The policy is touted by advocates as a positive step to change law enforcement culture where drug enforcement is concerned. LEAD is empirically shown to reduce recidivism, save money and improve police/community relations by giving police the infrastructure to steer low-level offenders toward supportive resources and away from criminalization. LEAD is already being implemented in multiple cities across the country including Seattle, Santa Fe and Albany. These awards create the opportunity for jurisdictions in Colorado to adopt this innovative model locally.
During the 2017 legislative session, the Drug Policy Alliance convened the Colorado LEAD Coalition, which included the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), the Colorado Association of Local Public Health Officials (CALPHO) and the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition. The coalition successfully lobbied the Joint Budget Committee for an allocation from the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund in the 2017-2018 state budget to fund LEAD pilot programs in Colorado. This funding represents the first of its kind in the state to create meaningful alternatives to criminal justice involvement for Coloradans with mental health or substance use issues by increasing the treatment, public health and harm reduction infrastructures in awardee communities. Police in the four awardee jurisdictions will now have the opportunity to divert individuals with low-level drug and prostitution offenses into case management services rather than the criminal justice system.
Awardees look forward to the new opportunities created by this funding:
“I am delighted and excited about this grant,” says Denver District Attorney Beth McCann. “Too many people suffering from substance abuse and mental health disorders are being warehoused in our country’s jails, overwhelming the system while not addressing the substance abuse problems and mental health needs. I support this and other efforts to divert appropriate individuals from the jails and get them the help they need to get out and stay out of the criminal justice system.”
“For over twenty years Longmont has realized that health issues are not solved or mitigated though arrest and prosecution,” says Public Safety Chief Michael Butler of Longmont. “Invoking the criminal justice system to respond to certain aspects of our humanness is not only ineffective, it most likely creates more significant safety issues and further disenfranchises people struggling with addiction, their mental health or homelessness. This award will positively impact our community and also help us continue to serve as an example to others.”
“The timing is now for Pueblo,” according to Judy Solano and Dr. Michael Nerenberg of Southern Colorado Harm Reduction Association in Pueblo County. “Receiving the LEAD grant will provide our wounded community with options to give individuals struggling with addiction an opportunity to become functional. This grant will reduce recidivism, allow the likelihood of finding employment and housing, decrease the strain on limited healthcare resources, and create savings for law enforcement and the criminal justice system. This grant is set up to bring a multi-organizational collaborative effort together to address the opioid epidemic in a proven, effective, systemic manner.”
“This is a victory for harm reductionists, law enforcement, public health practitioners and all who realize we need a new approach to address mental health and drug dependency issues,” says Art Way, state director of Colorado and senior director of criminal justice reform strategy at the Drug Policy Alliance. “We congratulate the chosen jurisdictions while also urging them to ensure those most harmed by the failed approach benefit the most from the new policies. We also tip our hats to the Governor’s cabinet, the legislative joint budget committee and all who supported marijuana legalization in Colorado given the funding for these important public health interventions stem from the state’s Marijuana Tax Cash Fund.”