Denver’s LEAD pilot program extends the service contract

Denver’s LEAD program works with STAR to reduce community exposure to the police.

(Eli Imadali for Denverite)

One of Denver’s pilot programs for removing low-level criminals from the criminal justice system is one step closer to being extended for another year. The Denver Security, Housing, Education and Homelessness Subcommittee on Wednesday will approve a $ 1 million contract between the city’s law enforcement assisted diversion program (LEAD) and its service provider, the Empowerment Program.

Instead of booking people for charges like prostitution, drug possession or trespassing, the police have the option of connecting people to LEAD. However, LEAD has also expanded to external referrals so that individuals can proactively access their services rather than as an alternative to arrest.

“We’ve heard pretty loud and clear from the community that if we can avoid having someone we work with who is usually homeless or some type of to avoid interacting with the police altogether, it is better Behavior problems, ”said Kevin Kelly, Program Administrator at LEAD.

He assumes that the LEAD contract with the empowerment program will be handed over to the city council without any problems.

Since its launch in Denver in February 2019, LEAD has helped 118 people in the community by providing services such as health care, housing, and substance abuse treatment. The initiative is part of a national model created in Seattle.

Another, and newer, Denver pilot program called the Support Team Assisted Response Program (STAR) has also been in the news lately. This initiative, launched in June 2020, forwards some emergency calls directly to social workers and other health professionals, completely avoiding contact with the police.

Kelly acknowledged that the two programs are very similar in scope. When asked about the specific differences, Kelly said officials “are still finding out.”

“There is certainly a lot of overlap between us and STAR,” he said.

But there are differences. STAR reroutes emergency calls before police contact is made, while LEAD slowly shifts from a pre-reservation alternative to proactive provision of services.

Another difference between the initiatives is that through the contract with the Empowerment Program, which will be approved on Wednesday, LEAD offers a wide range of in-house services.

“The average length of time we have a client on our program is about a year,” said Kelly. “So it’s a little more about working on stability in the long term.”

Meanwhile, STAR’s role is mainly to provide immediate emergency support services.

“The goal of the STAR program is to address the initial crisis on the road and guide, refer and transport the customer,” said Health and Environment Department spokeswoman Emily Williams in an emailed statement .

But the ultimate goal of both programs to divert low-level criminals out of the criminal justice system is identical, and both remove police contact from their trial.

“I think the Behavioral Strategies Office as a whole is trying to offer many different options to people with behavioral health crises, so it’s a multi-pronged approach,” Williams said.

LEAD is fully funded by the Marijuana Cash Tax Fund, while STAR is funded by the Denver General Fund.

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