Community learns about LEAD

District Attorney Crista Newmyer-Olsen, left, and Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks, right, and law enforcement officials listen as Carey Deacon, LEAD Project Manager for Alamosa, center, speaks during the community forum on Saturday./Courier photo by Helen Smith

ALAMOSA— Small changes can be a path to bigger results. This is the hope and goal of the LEAD program.

During a community forum on Saturday at the Alamosa Family Recreation Center, local leaders of the Alamosa LEAD project explained more about the initiative and how it might be expanded.

The LEAD initiative is a nationwide drug use intervention program that began in Seattle, Washington. LEAD stands for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion. In Colorado, LEAD is funded through a grant though the Long Bill from the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund (39-28.8-501 C.R.S.).  The grant cycle began on April 1st, 2018 and goes through June 30th, 2020 and provides $2,300,000 annually.

According to the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health, the program gives discretionary authority to police officers at the point of contact to divert individuals to a community-based harm reduction intervention for behavior driven by unmet behavioral health needs. The target population for the initiative is adults at risk for low-level controlled substance-related offenses and prostitution who have a history of involvement with law enforcement.

The goals of the program include increasing public safety, decreasing recidivism, reducing justice system costs, decreasing individual-level harm for participants, increasing access to services and systematic change and transformation. The areas of the state that currently have a LEAD program are the City of Alamosa, the City and County of Denver, the City of Longmont, and Pueblo County.

The Alamosa project is currently considered a pilot program. Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks explained that Alamosa city council members initially heard about LEAD at a conference they attended and saw it as a great opportunity for the city. The hope is that the program can be expanded to a Valley-wide initiative. As of January- February 2019, Rio Grande County and the City of Monte Vista have expressed willingness to participate.

The way the process works is relatively simple. In lieu of the normal criminal justice system, individuals are referred into a trauma-informed intensive case management program. Through these programs, an individual can receive a wide range of support services, which often includes transitional and or permanent housing along with drug treatment. The key components of the program are case management and referral/linkage to needed services. Through the case management portion, participants are placed into an individually tailored intervention plans. Individuals are also connected to medical care, mental health care, employment training, etc.

Clarissa Woodworth, operations director for the Center for Restorative Programs, one of the partners of the Alamosa program noted that connecting individuals to “larger community resources” is a crucial piece to addressing issues of addiction. She also noted that “success looks different” for each participant and that the program is an opportunity to find “what is and isn’t working.” Carey Deacon, project manager for LEAD in Alamosa, pointed out that the program is also about building “supportive relationships” and enabling participants to find a new path and become “more productive citizens.”

Emily Richardson, manager of co-responder services for the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health, noted that LEAD is also about “educating the community about the harm reduction model” and “encouraging systematic change.”

During the panel discussion at the forum, District Attorney Crista Newmyer-Olsen noted that she and her staff were wiling to consider a new approach to the opioid/drug abuse issue due to the spike in crime that the 12th Judicial District has seen in the past few years. There were also numerous law enforcement officials present including Rio Grande County Sheriff Don McDonald and Monte Vista Chief of Police John Rosecrans. The officers present agreed that the program has potential to reduce the frustrations that come with their work by addressing the real issue of addiction.

The panel was also in agreement that although it is not the entire solution, LEAD is an opportunity to bring needed change in small amounts. LEAD is still in the early stages but there is optimism that good things will happen for Alamosa and the Valley.

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