ALAMOSA — Alamosa is in the LEAD for breaking the cycle of crime and addiction.
LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) team members provided an update on the program, designed to reduce recidivism among low-level repeat offenders in Alamosa and eventually throughout the San Luis Valley.
The city has received almost $1.3 million in funding through the Colorado Department of Human Services Office of Behavioral Health to implement and operate the program through June 30, 2020, with sustainable funding the goal to continue the program after that time. City councilors attending last year’s Colorado Municipal League conference heard about the program, which began in Seattle and has been successful in other parts of the country, and encouraged staff to apply for funding.
Alamosa is one of four pilot sites in the state to receive funding.
City Manager Heather Brooks said staff are learning more and more as the program becomes operational, and she wants the community to be aware of what the program does and does not do.
“It is not a silver bullet,” she said, “and it is not an overnight solution.”
However, it is another tool to address some key problems in Alamosa such as the opioid crisis and jail overpopulation, she added.
“This lined up with a lot of discussions we were having,” she said. “It was very timely.”
A committee has been working on the LEAD implementation, with representatives involved from all aspects of the justice system including city police, county sheriff, district attorney, public defender and others, Brooks explained.
The Center for Restorative Programs (CRP) is providing program management including the case managers who are working with the clients referred into the LEAD program. CRP has a program manager and two case managers working on this program. Funds will also enable the district attorney’s office to hire an attorney to work with this program as well, Brooks said.
LEAD funds also help provide “wrap around” services (not covered through other means) to meet clients’ needs, whether that might be for housing and transportation or addiction treatment and mental health services.
Brooks said people need to understand this is a law enforcement program, and it is law officers who will be referring people into the program.
“It is another tool for officers to use at their discretion,” Brooks said. “We are not forcing our officers to use it … It gives them another tool.”
The program is designed to assist people who are regulars with law enforcement and have underlying issues such as drug addiction that could benefit from this program. Repeated arrests of these individuals are not going to solve the problem, Brooks explained.
The results may take time, however, Brooks added.
“This is a harm reduction program. The results are not going to be immediate,” she said.
This program does not require abstinence like the drug court, for example, but instead “meets the client wherever they are in their lives and works with them at the pace they are going to get the end result we all hope they will get to.”
She added, “We really need the whole community to embrace this.”
Alamosa Police Chief Duane Oakes said there are two avenues for officers to refer individuals, criminally or socially, depending on the contact with the person. The criminal avenue occurs when the individual commits a low-level non-violent crime (such as shoplifting) and is identified as a good candidate for LEAD. The officer would explain the program to the individual, and if the person is willing to participate, screening would occur to make sure the person qualifies, and if the person is accepted, he or she would then meet with CRP staff.
Oakes said the goal is to keep people out of the criminal justice system and address their needs, “help them overcome the challenges they are having in their lives so they stop offending.”
“Social” referrals also must come through the law enforcement, but the people involved are not committing crimes. Oakes and Brooks stressed this is not a “snitch” program where participants would be asked for information.
“We are there to offer them services to address their needs,” Oakes stressed.
CRP Operations Director Clarissa Woodworth said CRP has had two referrals since the first of April, one through the social and one through the criminal avenue. Similar to the group that set up the program, an operational work group is in place with representatives from the district attorney’s and public defender’s offices and others, Woodworth explained.
“The partnerships we have had with a lot of agencies is what makes this work,” she said. “Law enforcement and case managers and service providers work really closely together to make this work.”
CRP will act as the “glue” to keep communications going between clients and service providers.
“It’s not a magic wand, but it is a really exciting opportunity,” Woodworth said.
Clients will receive nonjudgmental acceptance, she added. “People are doing the best they can with what they have, and we are going to make sure they have more.”
Brooks said the program will start in Alamosa County but hopefully expand throughout the Valley in 2019.
Retired Albany, N.Y. Police Chief Brendan Cox, who now works in the national LEAD program, met with the local LEAD team and Alamosa city council. He said cooperation is key between police officers, case managers and participants, and community support is also important.
Cox said the program works. He said Seattle has seen a 58-percent reduction in recidivism among LEAD participants. There is a cost savings when that happens as well, he pointed out. While it might cost $550 a month to serve a LEAD participant, it costs $75,000 a year to house that person in jail, at least in Albany, N.Y. There are also public health savings. He added people’s lives are also improved, not overnight but over time.
“I am very excited about this,” said Alamosa City Councilor Kristina Daniel. “I really believe in this kind of intervention.”
Councilman Jan Vigil thanked the city staff who worked to put this together and the partners like CRP who are working to implement it. “This is huge for our community.”
Councilman Charles Griego added, “I have always said jails are not the only answer.”
Alamosa Mayor Ty Coleman asked Chief Oakes, knowing the current funding will end in two years, what would success look like at that point.
Oakes said on his side, success would be a reduction in crimes and police contact with repeat offenders so police can concentrate on other policing efforts.
Woodworth said healthier individuals would mean success for her.