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Behavioral Health Services

New Program Launching in the South Valley to Reduce Criminal Activity by Low-Level Offenders

7:55 AM

Today Bernalillo County announced its newest behavioral health program, the Bernalillo County Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program [LEAD]. Bernalillo County LEAD is a collaborative effort between the Bernalillo County’s Division of Behavioral Health Services and Sheriff’s Office, the City of Albuquerque and the Albuquerque Police Department, the 2nd Judicial District Office of the District Attorney, the Law Offices of the Public Defender and individuals with lived experiences.

Bernalillo County LEAD will serve individuals living with a substance use disorder or serious mental illness who typically cycle in and out of the criminal justice system for low-level crimes that are committed in order to sustain their addictions. This program seeks to reduce criminal activity by offering interventions and services that will help them address their addictions, rather than incarceration. By interrupting the cycle of crime and frequent visits to jail and hospital emergency departments, LEAD will instead provide access to treatment, recovery services, and trained LEAD case managers who help participants develop plans for recovery, stability and wellness.

The diversion approach will focus on individuals who commit low-level drug offenses or low-level property crimes commissioned in order to get drugs, prostitution, or engage in activities such as trespassing, loitering and vagrancy. Individuals who have committed one of these offenses will be screened for a substance use disorder and/or mental illness. If a behavioral health condition is identified and if the LEAD-trained officer believes the individual is amenable to accessing treatment and other services, the officer will consult with the DA’s office and seek consent to divert rather than arrest, if there is consensus, the officer will coordinate with a LEAD case manager who will determine the best diversion options for the individual.

“There is a link between untreated behavioral health conditions, substance use, homelessness, and illegal activity - all of which are costly to our entire community. By coming together to create a system of care, we’re making our community safer and helping individuals get the treatment they need. That benefits everyone in Bernalillo County,” said Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins.

“I’m so proud of our County and community for coming together to create meaningful programs that help those who are living with a behavioral health condition. We are leading by example, remedying a system that for decades has been failing those it was intended to help. I greatly look forward to witnessing the outcomes of this program here in my hometown of the South Valley,” said Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada.

The program will also allow law enforcement and the justice system to focus their attention on more complicated cases and serious offenders.

“I am pleased to know there will be another tool to help those who are addicted to drugs or have mental health issues. This system will have a positive impact on our community. Any effort to break the cycle of addiction is a proactive approach to reducing crime in Bernalillo County. I look forward to the results of this program and commend the restorative approach among county officials to better serve our community,” said Sheriff Manuel Gonzales III.

Expected outcomes include lower crime and emergency visits, in addition to a higher quality of life for those who will benefit from access to medical, recovery and social services. Case studies of other cities which have LEAD programs demonstrate significant savings to the system, as well as reduction in recidivism. Incorporating similar techniques, Boulder, Colorado’s program has realized approximately $3 million in savings annually in jail and emergency department costs.

If an individual in the LEAD program commits another crime or fails to complete the intake process, charges will be filed for the diverted offenses.

Initial funding for the Bernalillo County LEAD program came from a national grant award from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Urban Institute’s Innovation Fund that provided $50,000. Additionally, Bernalillo County will receive $ 189,714 from the New Mexico state legislature to further support LEAD.

Trained Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Deputies will kick off LEAD in the South Valley initially and will begin making diversions today, on July 2nd, 2019. In the not-too-distant future Albuquerque Police Department officers will initiate LEAD in Albuquerque’s International District.

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