DENVER — A pilot program to address low-level drug and prostitution crimes will soon launch in Denver, officials announced Tuesday. 

In the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, rather than being arrested, incarcerated and prosecuted, LEAD-trained Denver police officers will redirect people facing substance use and/or prostitution charges to case management and community-based services. 

LEAD program participants will receive support services, such as housing, job training, substance use treatment and mental health treatment.

“The Denver Police Department is committed to reducing crime and social harms in Denver by focusing on prevention,” said Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen. “Understanding why these crimes are occurring can provide a better idea of how to help offenders not commit crimes in the future. The LEAD program is a great tool that officers can use to help people; rather than citing or arresting people for low-level crimes.”

The LEAD pilot program will launch in DPD Districts 1, 2 and 6. Funding comes from a $560,707 grant provided by the Colorado Department of Human Services’ Office of Behavioral Health. 

“LEAD gives Denver police officers an innovative and effective way to address the untreated behavioral health needs of the most vulnerable members of our community,” said Kevin Kelly, LEAD Program Administrator with Denver’s Office of Behavioral Health Strategies. “With this program, we can prevent people from getting caught in the endless cycle of incarceration, saving taxpayer money. And we can empower people to live better who are typically facing extraordinary barriers to accessing the services they need.”

To request more funding beyond the initial grant, the pilot program will be evaluated by an independent team to determine whether it resulted in reductions in drug use, whether the program is more cost-effective than traditional criminal justice processing, and whether LEAD has had a positive impact on Denver’s quality of life.

“By implementing the LEAD program, we’re giving people a first chance before a second chance is needed,” said Denver District Attorney Beth McCann. “Nationally, LEAD has shown it can improve public safety and public order while reducing the criminal behavior and incarceration of those who participate. By partnering with ARTS and the Empowerment Program, program participants will benefit from the expertise of these leading service organizations and receive the specific support they need to put their issues with prostitution and drug use behind them."

Officers trained in LEAD can refer offenders to either Addiction Research and Treatment Services (ARTS) or the Empowerment Program. ARTS works with people with serious addiction. The Empowerment Program provides services to women.

LEAD is similar to programs in cities like Seattle and Santa Fe, where police and prosecutors have seen recidivism reduced, according to Kelly.

LEAD will last through 2020.

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