Problematic Behavior or Activity
Police officers routinely interact with people with mental health issues. Mental illness is a medical and social services problem, but a number of the problems caused by or associated with people with mental illness often become police problems. These include crimes, suicides, disorder and a variety of calls for service. Increasingly, Dallas Police Department officers are coming into contact with people with mental health issues.
Impact on the Community
The standard police response has been to either arrest the person (if there is probable cause) or leave the person alone (when there is no illegal behavior occurring). Both responses are unsatisfactory; placing someone in the criminal justice system or leaving the person alone does not address the problem: The person continues to suffer from mental health issues and may continue to cause disturbances and engage in criminal behavior.
Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) is a pilot program within the Dallas municipal criminal justice system to divert some persons suffering from mental health issues from the criminal court system and into treatment intake.
Once a police officer makes initial contact with a person in the field (either from a call for service or officer initiated activity) and the officer recognizes that the person is, in the officer’s lay opinion, affected by a mental health issue, there are two scenarios: (1) If the officer has no probable cause to arrest the person but believes they could benefit from mental health services, the officer may choose to make a "social referral." In this event, the officer will sign a non-binding agreement (refer to form) with the person and initiate a first contact with Polk County Behavioral Health. In this case, the agreement serves only as a tangible reminder to the person of their promise to the officer. (2) If the officer has probable cause to arrest the person, the officer may choose to initiate the LEAD program. If the subject agrees to participate in LEAD, they will sign an agreement with the police officer (refer to form) and the officer will initiate a call to Polk County Behavioral Health. The officer will wait with the subject until Behavioral Health staff arrives and releases the officer. Note that a person is disqualified from LEAD if the person is on court ordered supervision for a person crime, any victim of the offense for which the officer is investigating objects, or the subject chooses not to voluntarily enter into the program. Intoxication is not a disqualifier. Other charges currently under investigation or before a court are not disqualifiers.
Once a person enters into LEAD and they comply with their treatment program for 60 days, they will not be prosecuted for their diverted crime. If they do not comply, a warrant will be requested for their arrest and normal prosecution will occur.
The goal of this program is to divert persons with underlying mental health issues from court and incarceration and into treatment intake. The program is considered successful if the person complies with private or public mental health treatment for 60 days in the judgment of the provider. This program is meant to be as inclusive as responsibly possible.
Based on Research
LEAD is based on Seattle’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program for people arrested on narcotics and prostitution charges.
There was an initial cost for the printing of forms. This program is expected to save the city a considerable amount of money over time although the amount is not quantifiable with current data. Further, this program would potentially save the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Jail Division, considerable money by diverting or removing persons with behavioral health issues from the jail.
This program will cost Polk County Behavioral Health an indeterminate amount. However, this program may make Polk County Behavioral Health eligible for additional funding through multiple grant sources.
The program was implemented in July 2015. Dallas PD has diverted one person for a crime so far and the department has begun to apply the LEAD process for city code offenses related to mental illness. The diverted person succeeded with the program and, to the department’s knowledge, has not had negative police contact since.
Critical Success Factors
For the program to be used in greater numbers, it is critical for the entire criminal justice system and its stakeholders to become accustomed to LEAD – its philosophy and goals. LEAD’s success depends on the cooperation and collaboration of many system partners.
Start early recruiting the essential partners, especially behavioral health service providers. Expect to work hard to achieve officer buy-in, not everyone in the police department will agree immediately with the idea of diversion. Work with all stakeholders to develop consensus around the program’s protocol and policies.