The question remains: Will Mayor Ed Murray LEAD?
On April 8, supporters of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, including an ambivalent sounding Murray, held a press conference at the Belltown Community Center.
LEAD takes a public-health, harm-reduction approach to drug addiction (“Will Murray LEAD?” RC, March 25). Instead of using the incarceration methods of the War on Drugs, LEAD “diverts” addicts out of the criminal justice system into treatment, housing, job training, mental-health services and healthcare. LEAD is a pilot program that began in Belltown in 2011 and has expanded to cover all of downtown Seattle and the Skyway neighborhood in unincorporated King County. Some Seattle police officers and King County deputies can refer prostitutes and low-level drug offenders to LEAD instead of arresting them.
The occasion for last week’s press conference was the release of the second in a series of evaluations of LEAD by three University of Washington professors. From 2009 (two years before LEAD started) to 2014, the UW professors studied two groups of drug addicts: 203 LEAD participants who worked with case managers to set meaningful goals and “reduce the harmful impact of their behaviors on themselves and others,” and 103 “control-group members” — drug addicts who were simply arrested and prosecuted. The professors found that after participating in the program, “people in LEAD were 58 percent less likely than people in the control group to be arrested.”
The participants at the press conference represented the unusual coalition behind LEAD: Mayor Murray, Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, King County Prosecutor’s Office Chief Criminal Deputy Mark Larson, the Public Defender Association’s (and LEAD’s chief architect) Lisa Daugaard and the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington’s (ACLU) Mark Cooke.
Daugaard has quipped it is like lions and tigers lying down together.
Most of the press conference’s speakers were strongly enthusiastic. For example, King County Executive Dow Constantine said, “When drug and alcohol dependency are the problem, jail is not the solution. We have been dealing with public health issues as criminal justice problems. How do we respond to drug addiction in a more effective way? What is it that we expect to achieve from incarceration? We need to replace it with something promising … LEAD.”
The notable exception was Mayor Murray. While Constantine and others made it clear that LEAD represents a historic paradigm shift away from the War on Drugs, Murray framed the program’s achievement very narrowly. “LEAD has passed an important test in its early development, and it is now time to take the program to the next level. We know that jailing men and women with chronic addiction or mental illness is not going to work. LEAD has provided a better way.”
Then Murray immediately went back to his law-and-order message about downtown. “To be clear: LEAD is not a panacea for all of our public safety challenges. There are still dangerous criminals and repeat offenders who need to be confronted by the traditional criminal justice system.” No one else at the press conference talked about cracking down on crime.
Currently LEAD has around 250 clients; the program can handle up to 500, according to LEAD program director Kris Nyrop.
The reason that the program is underutilized is clear: Out of the 1,300 officers in the Seattle Police Department, only between 70 and 80 are authorized to make LEAD referrals.
“We’re not getting the referrals out of the Seattle Police Department that we would like to see,” Nyrop said.
In order to get more addicts into treatment, Murray needs to double the number of police officers who can make LEAD referrals.
Instead of taking bold action, Murray made incremental promises that may lead to nothing at all. He announced that the police department will assign one full-time lieutenant to LEAD; the mayor will convene a task force to help city departments coordinate with LEAD; and city government will hire the Council of State Governments, a think tank, to study how to grow LEAD to scale.
LEAD is in the final year of a four-year funding grant from multiple private foundations. Its 2015 budget is $1.5 million, half of which is funded by the city of Seattle.
LEAD’s budget is tiny compared to the mayor’s annual city general-fund budget of $500 million. The least Murray could have done is assured everyone that LEAD will be funded in the future. Instead, he hedged and then tried to shift the budgeting responsibility to somebody else. “Funding will be an issue as some of the grant money goes away,” Murray said, “One of the exciting things about having so many different partners besides the city of Seattle is the possibility of other funding sources.”
King County Sheriff John Urquhart said, “[LEAD] actually works. We are going to keep doing it. Hopefully the politicians will support us with the money.”