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Lynnwood to introduce LEAD program into policing

By: Erin Freeman | Lynnwood Times Staff

Lynnwood Police are partnering with the Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney’s office to implement an alternative to policing in cases where people committing low-level crimes and experiencing behavioral health issues will have the opportunity to access alternatives to jail time.

The Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney’s office will work with the Everett and Lynnwood Police Departments to introduce Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) into their policing, a program that connects individuals with social services and resources to address underlying circumstances contributing to crime.

The LEAD program will give officers the discretion to defer arrestable low-level offenders enduring mental illness, substance abuse, homelessness, trauma, and other issues to a caseworker who will remove any barriers to accessing support and guide them through services at a pace sensible for the individual.

The Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney office announced on June 29, that it received a $1.685 million grant from the Washington State Health Care Authority, issued for the implementation of the LEAD program. Adam Cornell, County Prosecuting Attorney outlined the overarching goal of the public safety program aided by human resource tools as an initiative to reduce criminal recidivism, leading to a safer and healthier community.

“Focusing on the underlying behavioral health challenges of those committing low-level property and drug crimes and reducing unnecessary justice system involvement, we will make our community safer, and in the long run, will further economic and spiritual vitality for all of our citizens,” said Cornell in a statement.

LEAD presents law enforcement with another option to improve the results of their encounters with people in the community, explains Ashley Dawson, the Lynnwood Police Department’s embedded social worker. Serving on the department’s Community Health and Safety Section Outreach Team, she works with officers to connect people with resources and social services but explains that the team isn’t intended to provide long term intensive case management to the individuals they serve.

“LEAD provides intensive case management for some of the hardest to serve individuals. It’s an approach that acknowledges there’s underlying trauma or issues that are not able to be addressed in jail,” explained Dawson. “As a whole, the community justice system is not set up to address mental health issues at the level that we’re seeing, so this is a key time where service providers can provide partnership, resources, and a community-based approach to help address some of the major challenges police officers are facing in their work,” says Dawson.

Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith spoke to the intended implementation of the program, asserting it as a “critical step towards providing better alternatives to incarceration” to community members cycling through the criminal justice system without receiving the support they need to address the cause of the crimes that they are committing.

“We know that we cannot arrest our way out of these issues that have impacts on all aspects of our community’s quality of life,” said Smith in a statement. “Having these alternatives available to those who are most vulnerable helps create a better path towards wellbeing. Lynnwood is proud to participate in this effort.”

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