Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD)

A pre-arrest diversion program, first implemented in Seattle, for those committing low-level law violations driven by unmet behavioral health needs

Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) is a community-based diversion approach with the goals of improving public safety and public order and reducing unnecessary justice system involvement of people who participate in the program.

In a LEAD program, police officers exercise discretionary authority at point of contact to divert individuals to a community-based, harm-reduction intervention for law violations driven by unmet behavioral health needs. In lieu of the normal criminal justice system cycle—booking, detention, prosecution, conviction, incarceration—individuals are referred into a trauma-informed, intensive case-management program where they receive a wide range of support services, including transitional and permanent housing and/or drug treatment.

Prosecutors and police officers work closely with case managers to ensure that all contacts with LEAD participants going forward, including new criminal prosecutions for other offenses, are coordinated with the service plan for the participant to maximize the opportunity to achieve behavioral change.

First implemented in Seattle in 2011, this model has now been replicated in other areas nationwide. 

The program was associated with 58% lower odds of arrest and 39% lower odds of being charged with a felony over the longer term. 

Continuum of Care
Harm Reduction
Type of Evidence
Response Approach
Comprehensive services
Crisis intervention
Housing, Education, and Employment
Peer-reviewed Article

Evidence of Program Effectiveness

According to a peer-reviewed evaluation published in 2017, LEAD participants, compared to controls, had 60% lower odds of arrest during the six months subsequent to evaluation entry; and both 58% lower odds of arrest and 39% lower odds of being charged with a felony over the longer term. These statistically significant differences in arrests and felony charges indicate positive effects of the LEAD program on recidivism. LEAD was developed in Seattle, WA, but is now operating or launching in over 50 communities nationwide (Collins et al., 2017). 

Beyond recidivism outcomes, another peer-reviewed evaluation found that LEAD participants saw improvements in stable housing, employment, and access to adequate income and benefits to meet basic needs. Further, those individuals who achieved housing and employment were associated with 17% and 33% fewer arrests, respectively, at six months follow-up (Clifasefi et al., 2017). 

A report, funded by the Ford Foundation, presents a detailed overview of Seattle's LEAD program and provides a summary of what has and has not worked well in the program up to March 2014.