Seattle-King County Police Diversion Program

Seattle-King County Police Diversion Program

What are the goals of the program?

In 2011, The City of Seattle began piloting the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program (LEAD) to address low-level drug and prostitution crimes in targeted city neighborhoods and parts of King County. The program's goals are to improve public safety and public order, and to reduce the criminal behavior patterns of people who participate in the program. The program allows police officers to redirect individuals engaged in drug use or prostitution to community-based public health and social services rather than to jail and prosecution. Treatment services may include substance use disorder treatment, mental health support, housing, and job training.

Who are the partners?

LEAD is composed of a coalition of law enforcement, public health, city and county officials, community stakeholders and private sector supporters. The LEAD Community Advisory Board includes representatives from neighborhood groups, the local YWCA, a business improvement district, and churches.

Among the actors governing LEAD through a Policy Coordinating Group are the city and county government leaders in Seattle and King County, city and county police, the state Department of Corrections, and the ACLU of Washington Drug Policy Project.

How is the program funded?

During the pilot and evaluation stage, the project was funded by philanthropic foundations including Ford, Open Society, RiverStyx, and Massena. Additional funding came from the Social Justice Fund Northwest and the Vital Projects Fund. The expectation is that long-term funding for this initiative will come from both public and private sources.

Program details

LEAD is a pre-booking diversion program that empowers decision making about arrests to be made by street-level public safety personnel. Instead of moving persons with substance use disorder into the criminal justice system, LEAD-participants begin working immediately with case managers and social workers. In the case of persons suffering from addiction, LEAD participants will have access to trained clinicians which specialize in medication assisted treatments and have been the key providers in the region for street-level outreach.

Case managers are meeting LEAD participants where they are - both in terms of geography and physical/emotional states. While strongly focused on substance use disorder, LEAD also has a larger harm reduction and mental health focus. Case managers work intensively with individuals to identify and rank their needs from pressing and urgent to long-term. Many participants identify housing and reliable access to food and hygiene facilities as their greatest needs. LEAD has been independently evaluated by researchers from the University of Washington who found that the program yielded significant recidivism reductions among participants (both on a pre/post- participant only analysis and also when compared to a selected group of controls). They also found criminal justice system savings when compared to system as normal controls. The full report is available online:

NLC Contact:

City Solutions and Applied Research
Last Modified, April 2016