A strategy first deployed in downtown Seattle for keeping chronic drug users and mentally ill people out of jail by connecting them with social services is expanding to Capitol Hill.
Within the next three months, East Precinct police officers will be teaming up with social service workers and using an arrest diversion program to help address “street disorder” around Pike/Pine and Cal Anderson Park, city officials tell CHS.
By expanding Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion and the Multi-disciplinary Team outreach program, Mayor Ed Murray and others are hoping to partially answer one of Capitol Hill’s most intractable problems: What can be done to help the increasing numbers of people living on the street?
Representatives from the mayor’s office and SPD will announce the planned expansion to City Council on Thursday as “Council Central Staff present an overview of key changes to City Department budgets,” according to the budget committee agenda.
“Simply arresting people and locking them up is not the only tool that changes crime statistics,” Murray, a longtime resident of Capitol Hill, tells CHS.
“Many of the chronic offenders are not committing major criminal offenses, but it’s a challenge for the neighborhood.”
The mayor’s budget proposal includes $1.8 million to fund body cameras for every patrol officer and budget to hire 30 new police officers in 2016, keeping the city on pace for 100 additional officers by 2018. Administration of LEAD will be moved to the Human Services Department, a change CHS was told is not significant for the program and was only “a technical relocation of the funding.”
While LEAD specifically focuses on diverting drug users (and to a lesser extent, sex workers) from jail into treatment programs, the MDT casts a wider net. Under the program, outreach workers contracted by the Metropolitan Improvement District go on patrol with officers to offer a range of social services. In addition to ongoing individual assistance, MDT workers can provide city and regional bus tickets, motel vouchers, connections to homeless shelters, and other social services.
The MDT has been in operation around downtown for nearly two years, but outreach workers are increasingly finding their way up the Hill to follow clients. Now, roughly three MDT members will regularly serve the neighborhood on as many calls as possible.
The programs are funded through a combination of city, county, and private sources. LEAD and MDT were allocated a combined $1.7 million in Murray’s 2016 budget, although no actual increase in funding was required for the expansion. According to Mayor’s office, the programs will use carryover money from last year to begin operations on Capitol Hill.
Downtown businesses fund part of the current MDT program through the MID and some Capitol Hill businesses can expect to be asked to contribute as well. After an expanded Business Improvement Area gets its footing, Murray said its members ought to pitch in, provided the program is working.
Scott Lindsay, who works in the Mayor’s office on police reform and public safety, says downtown business owners have been receptive to the program as they’re more willing to call the police when a person is in crisis knowing a case worker may be there to help. Whether it is someone passed out in front of a business or someone in mental or emotional crisis, the MDT targets issues officers don’t typically have the time or the ability to handle.
“Many of the chronic offenders are not committing major criminal offenses, but it’s a challenge for the neighborhood,” Lindsay said.
LEAD was launched in Seattle in 2011 and has since been replicated in cities across the country. It works by placing drug use suspects into counseling before they’re booked into jail. Typically, an officer will call a LEAD outreach worker to assess a drug user they think may be a good candidate for the program (no warrants or violent criminal history). The outreach worker then schedules a crisis assessment offered through Evergreen Treatment Services.
Results from the program have been promising. LEAD participants were 87% less likely to be incarcerated after entry than those who didn’t participate, according to a 2-year study (PDF) of the program recently completed by the University of Washington. They also had 58% lower odds of a subsequent arrest.
The Public Defender Association and the Capitol Hill Community Council have been among those advocating for the program to expand beyond downtown.
Some of MDT ground work has already been laid at the East Precinct. In response to repeated community calls for more officers walking the street, precinct commanders recently started directing officers to spend more of their “down time” on foot, making contacts with people on the street. So far, East Precinct officers have made a total of 1,523 such contacts, according to East Precinct’s Lt. Bryan Grennan.
Of course, officers will still be making arrests and when they do, chronic offenders who repeatedly turned down services may find less sympathetic judges, Grennan said.
It’s fair to say the expansion of LEAD and MDT is relatively modest given what many are calling a crisis situation. At the risk of promising too much too fast, Murray said the LEAD and MDT expansion is meant to be built on, not just a test run.
“People need to see outcomes on the street,” Murray said. “This isn’t one of those things where we’re there and we’re gone.”
UPDATE: Thursday’s budget meeting documented the costs of the program.
“It is possible for LEAD to expand to Capitol Hill without additional funding for three reasons,” report on the plan reads. “The first is that the expansion area abuts the current downtown service area and does not create substantial additional costs for travel and supervision. The second is that LEAD is not getting as many referrals as predicted, so that there is additional staff capacity for the expansion. The third reason is that the Public Defender Association is working with the City on several operational improvements that should make administration of the program more efficient.”
The MDT program will, however, require some budgetary action:
To fund the expansion of the MDT program to Capitol Hill in 2016, the Mayor is proposing to carry over $170,000 in GSF that remains in the 2015 Finance General reserve for the LEAD and MDT programs into 2016. This would increase the total City contribution to the MDT to $514,059 in 2016. The increased costs of expansion will be an ongoing expense if the program is continued in future years.
The report also documents how the programs were initially funded and how funding has transitioned.
LEAD was initially funded through a $4 Million grant from the Ford Foundation, and other granters. When the geographic area of the LEAD program expanded in 2014, Council added $830,000 in GSF to the HSD budget for a contract with the Public Defender Association. The same amount of funding was provided in the 2015 Adopted, 2016 Endorsed, and 2016 Proposed Budgets, as shown in Table 1 below. The funding is located in a reserve in Finance General in the 2016 Endorsed Budget, based on a 2015 Council budget action (97-1-B-1), which required that a detailed evaluation of the LEAD program be provided before the funds would be released. This evaluation has been completed, and the Mayor is proposing to move the LEAD funding to HSD.
The MDT is funded by a HSD contract with the DSA. In 2014, the MDT budget was almost $500,000, an amount comprised of $155,000 of carryover from 2013 and $344,059 in new funds. As shown on Table 1, the MDT budget was has remained close to $350,000 in the 2015 Adopted, 2016 Endorsed, and 2016 Proposed Budgets.