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Seattle council members look to rescue LEAD program

Seattle’s first-of-its kind diversion program LEAD could face collapse without a big boost in funding from the city. But there’s no shortage of council members ready to help.

Lawmakers, cops expand LEAD across Washington

“My fear is that we’ve taken the model, we’ve overloaded it – the boat’s starting to take on water and it’s going to sink of we don’t help it,” said King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg as he pleaded with the Seattle City Council earlier this month to save the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program, or LEAD.

LEAD is a pre-arrest diversion program launched in Seattle in 2011. It initially focused on Belltown for mostly drug and prostitution misdemeanors. It has since expanded to other parts of the city. In 2018, it grew to include more types of crime – usually involving those with mental health issues.

According to budget documents, common crimes include criminal trespass, theft, and property destruction. They collectively account for nearly half of cases in which individuals were held for competency evaluation by the Seattle Municipal Court in the first quarter of 2018.

Often misdemeanor cases involving those held for competency end with dismissal because the person is found incompetent and can’t legally be prosecuted. LEAD is one of the only options for dealing with those individuals.

To reach its full potential, LEAD was supposed to expand citywide but hasn’t been able to. That’s because the program is at capacity, and has been for some time. Case managers are meant to handle about 20-25 clients. Right now they’re handling about double that number — an average of 44, according to LEAD program manager Lisa Daugaard. The current 2020 budget proposal includes just over $2.5 million for the program, but Daugaard says without another $4.7 million, the program is at risk.

“Without closing this funding gap somehow for 2020 we really face the prospect of LEAD breaking down,” Daugaard said.

More drug users, prostitutes to get treatment instead of jail in King County

Five Seattle City Council members are working on ways to keep LEAD going. Councilmembers Mike O’Brien, Teresa Mosqueda, Lorena Gonzales, and Kshama Sawant each have separate proposals to fully fund the program with an additional $4.72 million in 2020.

Councilmember Sally Bagshaw offered a different proposal that only adds $3.5 million to the current budget proposal for LEAD with the understanding that the program also seeks funding from private donors.

Duagaard says they’ve already started talking to donors. The hope is that the program will meet the level of funding it needs.

A council budget committee will address each of the proposals Monday.

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