City Leaders Should Consider Pre-Arrest Diversion

Several cities across the nation are embracing pre-arrest diversion to reduce mass incarceration. Pre-arrest diversion allows officers to divert a person into community services to receive treatment rather than arresting and jailing that person.

Cities play an integral role in who enters local jails and are implementing programs and policies, such as pre-arrest diversion, that ensure only those who pose a risk to public safety are jailed.

Often, individuals who repeatedly use emergency services, such as law enforcement and emergency medical services, have underlying mental health or substance abuse needs.  Treating the root causes of the behavior not only helps the individual become less likely to continue to use emergency services, but also prevents continuous interruptions in family-life and work.

What can city leaders do?

  • Collect and analyze data on individuals who frequently use police and other emergency services.
  • Bring together all involved agencies, organizations and the community, including system involved individuals, to further understand the need and assess existing services and gaps in service.
  • Based on data and need, determine goals for pre-arrest diversion to assist in selecting a model to implement.
  • Support local law enforcement to add pre-arrest diversion tools for line officers and monitor effectiveness of pre-arrest diversion using data.
  • Re-allocate funding to support community-based services and diversion by law enforcement.
  • Issue public statements about pre-arrest diversion efforts to bolster community and police-wide support.

Typically, an officer responds to a call, determines whether an individual is eligible for diversion, either relying on specialized training or a written criteria, then follows procedure to refer the individual to services rather than typical arrest procedure.

Pre-arrest diversion models address varying levels of need from behavioral health to connecting individuals to community services to assist with housing, employment, and education. For example, Los Angeles’ Administrative Citation Enforcement aims to address lower levels of need, providing civil citations to individuals for specific offenses rather than criminal citations that pose a risk of jail.  Alternatively, the Kansas City Triage and Assessment Center aims to divert individuals from jail and provide services and treatment to those experiencing a higher level of need.

In the chart below, find examples for six different types of pre-arrest diversion models:

  • Triage center
  • Dual responder
  • Risk and needs based decision-making
  • Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD)
  • Walk in/ Police Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative (PAARI)
  • Citation based


Each example is based on five elements of a successful pre-arrest diversion program.  Each model has different goals addressing different levels of need and are in different stages of program development, monitoring and evaluation. Click here to see our brief offering more examples.

The National League of Cities supports cities in improving public safety by collecting and sharing models of replicable examples to reduce local jail populations. For more information, contact Tara Dhanraj, Senior Associate for Justice Reform, at

taraAbout the author: Tara Dhanraj is a Senior Associate for Justice Reform at the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.