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LEAD program expands north of Seattle to Snohomish County

Jesse Benet, deputy director of the Public Defender Association, speaks to a colleague while working at his desk in the Co-LEAD program offices in Seattle. Co-LEAD grew from the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

It’s been on Snohomish County prosecutor Adam Cornell’s wish list for some time to expand the LEAD program to his county. LEAD stands for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, and is a program that was originally founded in King County.

Lawmakers, cops expand LEAD program across Washington state

“It essentially provides tools to police officers to, in their discretion, decide if instead of taking somebody to jail, they’re going to give them an opportunity to be diverted from the traditional criminal justice system and have an opportunity to access all kinds of services that address their underlying behavioral health and other issues (or) underlying root causes of why they were engaging in criminal conduct in the first place,” Cornell explained.

This week, his office found out it has received a grant to bring the nationally recognized program to Snohomish County.

“I’m thrilled to announce that my office received a $1.65 million grant from the state’s Health Care Authority to bring LEAD to Snohomish County,” he said. “This is fantastic news, an opportunity to bring a nationally renowned program to our county, a program that has been replicated all over the place that is going to help to make our community safer and healthier.”

“I think it’s also worth noting that with the $1.65 million grant, that means that we’re not going to be burdening local taxpayers,” he added.

Cornell will first team his office with the Everett police and Lynnwood police, agencies located in two of Snohomish County’s bigger cities.

“Obviously, Everett is the biggest city in the county and where our most concentrated urban populations are, and I thought it made sense to partner with them right off the bat just because of the population center,” Cornell explained. “And then, of course, Lynnwood is also a larger city in south county, which has a significant population as well.”

Cornell believes adding the LEAD program will make the community safer as a whole.

“It allows me to have my deputy prosecutors more focused on violent crime, sexual assault crime, domestic crime, and less time prosecuting lower level drug and felony cases by getting to people while they’re still amenable to getting themselves better,” Cornell said. “Keeping them out of the criminal justice system.”

Adding the LEAD program at this time is not only going to save money as the economy tries to recover from the pandemic, but it’s also extremely relevant to the ongoing conversation about rethinking the criminal justice system.

“LEAD was way ahead of the game when it came to the aspect of criminal justice reform that is directly related to police, policing, and prosecution as far as arrest and prosecution,” Cornell said.

Cornell’s office will also set benchmarks to ensure the program is working as expected. LEAD should be up and running in Snohomish County within a couple of months.

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