Close this search box.

albany becomes 1st jurisdiction on east coast, 3rd in nation to launch innovative, evidence-based law enforcement assisted diversion (lead) program

Share This Post

For Immediate Release
March 31, 2016


Albany Police Department: Steven Smith (518) 889-9446
Center for Law and Justice: Dr. Alice Green (518) 427-8361
LEAD National Support Bureau: gabriel sayegh (646) 335-2264

Albany Becomes 1st Jurisdiction on East Coast, 3rd in Nation to Launch Innovative, Evidence-Based Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) Program

With Support from Albany Medical Center, Albany Program is First in Nation to Pioneer Innovative Linking of Healthcare System and LEAD Case Management 

Backed by New Community Leadership Team, LEAD Makes Albany a National Leader in Smart Criminal Justice Reform  

Albany – Today, city and county officials and community leaders gathered at the Center for Law and Justice to mark the launch of Albany’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program. Representatives from law enforcement, public defense, human service agencies, business, community groups and public health have been working on the planning and development of the program for nearly two years. Today’s launch means Albany will move into the first phase of operation, making Albany the first jurisdiction on the East Coast, and only the third in the nation to launch the innovative LEAD program.

LEAD is designed to reduce low-level arrests, racial disparities and recidivism. In LEAD, instead of making an arrest, police officers exercise their discretion to divert individuals for certain criminal offenses (including low-level drug charges) directly to a case manager, who then facilitates access to a comprehensive network of services. Instead of entering the maze of the criminal justice system, the individual receives intensive, harm reduction-oriented case management and targeted social services, with greater coordination among systems of care.

LEAD was first launched in Seattle in 2011. An independent evaluation found a 58% reduction in recidivism among people in the Seattle program, compared to people going through the criminal justice system as usual. In 2014, Albany established a Policy Coordinating Group (PCG) that began planning the LEAD program. In June of 2015, the PCG signed a Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate in the development of the program. In July of 2015, Albany’s LEAD planning work was recognized by the Obama Administration at a national LEAD convening held at the White House. In November of 2015, an Operational Work Group was formed, consisting of many of the key actors who would be interfacing with the participants on the day to day. The Operational Work Group has met frequently over the last few months to process and develop the eligibility criteria, protocol, and procedures of the program.

Historically, a relatively small number of individuals in Albany with high needs demand a great deal of police time and resources. They cycle in and out of jail or prisons without treatment of their underlying issues, such as mental illness and substance use problems, homelessness, unemployment, and inadequate medical care. This population also tends to be high utilizers of the hospital emergency room, which is costly and is not designed to provide preventative or regular health care. LEAD focuses on addressing some of those underlying problems and stopping the cycle of costly and ineffective arrests and incarceration.

Over the past two years, the planning and development of the LEAD program has been supported by a grant by the New York State Health Foundation (NYSHF). LEAD is a prime example of how municipalities can adopt a public health approach to addressing drugs, and appropriately moving issues around substance use from the criminal justice system and into the health system.  NYSHF’s support has allowed for increased cross-sector coordination among stakeholders that often work within silos. It has also allowed for Albany to leverage the numerous initiatives and opportunities around Medicaid, coordinating these efforts in order to achieve systemic change and optimize outcomes.

In a national first, the LEAD case management function in Albany will be supported by a healthcare institution: Albany Medical Center will invest funds from DSRIP (Delivery Service Reform Incentive Payment Program) to jumpstart the program’s first phase of case management services. DSRIP is one of the multiple initiatives by which New York State is implementing Medicaid redesign, and is one of the most associated with reforming system infrastructure. Albany Medical Center’s investment in LEAD is an important step in the shift from a criminal justice based approach to a health-based approach with issues related to drug use and mental health.

At today’s press conference, community members also announced the formation of the Albany LEAD Community Leadership Team, a group of neighborhood residents, human service providers, members of the clergy, and advocacy organizations that have been working to educate the community about LEAD. The group creates a critical mechanism for ongoing communication between the community and program actors.

A number of members of the business community and service providers from around the City and County acknowledge the impact that the LEAD program will have, and have provided generous donations for much needed resources to participants of the LEAD program. The CDTA, Stewart’s Shops, Homeless and Travelers Aid Society (HATAS), and the City Mission of Albany have provided bus passes, gift cards, toiletry packages, and more, so that police officers and case managers can best meet participants’ immediate needs.

With today’s launch, Albany becomes a national leader in smart criminal justice reform efforts by developing new solutions to the failed war on drugs. By adopting collaborative and comprehensive health-based approaches, Albany can more effectively address the needs of individuals, save resources, reduce public disorder and recidivism, and improve the health and safety of communities. Albany is leading the way for cities and counties throughout the country that are seeking new approaches to familiar problems.

“This is a historic day in Albany,” said Albany Mayor Kathy M. Sheehan. “We are launching a smart policing strategy that will improve public safety and health for our residents and will be a model for cities across the country. We’re moving forward with many stakeholders: community members, law enforcement, Albany Medical Center, faith-based groups, and social service agencies. Under LEAD, law enforcement officers will have the ability to divert people into treatment rather than sending them to prison. This will not only save funds, it will save lives and heal entire communities.”

“Today’s kick off of LEAD gives us the opportunity to enhance the lives of people who commit low-level offenses and make a difference in their lives,” said Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy. “Our county departments are poised to assist in providing the services people need and to coordinate with the leadership team. This represents a new day in the criminal justice system and I am pleased to be a part of it.”

“The Center for Law and Justice has been working with the newly formed Albany LEAD Community Leadership Team to create spaces for the community to provide input on the implementation of the LEAD program,” said Dr. Alice Green, Executive Director of the Center for Law and Justice. “The Community Leadership Team, which is neighborhood residents, human service providers, members of the clergy, and advocacy organizations has begun work educating the community about LEAD and holding important community-led discussions. The Community Leadership Team is committed to ensuring that the Albany LEAD program will contribute to fewer arrests, provide necessary access to services for those who most need it, increase coordination and communication across our communities in Albany, and reduce racial disparities within our criminal justice system.”

“More than ever, police and the communities we serve, need to work together to develop innovative and effective criminal justice reforms,” said Albany Police Chief Brendan J. Cox. “The implementation of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) Program in Albany demonstrates this community’s overall commitment to working collaboratively with the police department to ensure that low level offenders, especially those who suffer from drug addiction and mental illness, receive the appropriate services they need. Utilizing their existing discretion, police officers in Albany will now have the ability to truly help a fellow community member in need and put them on a path towards recovery. The day we start LEAD is the day our officers have an additional tool – they can stop arresting people for low-level offenses and instead get them connected to services.”

“Time and common sense have led us to the conclusion that our traditional law enforcement response to the chronic public health issues people face does not work,” said Albany County District Attorney P. David Soares. “Best practices dictate that we move in a different direction where public health and public safety merge. Law enforcement can no longer own the problem. Community assets must be leveraged to ensure the best public safety outcome. Safety is dramatically improved when the needs of people are being met. Millions of dollars are spent annually cycling the mentally ill, homeless and drug-addicted through the criminal justice system over and over, when far less could be spent to help them find housing, jobs and care, with far better results. LEAD will merge the public health and public safety communities, and actually save taxpayer dollars in the long run.”

“I am very proud to be part of a team of law enforcement agencies, public officials, and community groups that believe community based support and treatment will help save lives and reduce recidivism, as opposed to just throwing them in jail,” said Albany County Sheriff Craig D. Apple, Sr. “I believe this program will have a positive impact on public safety and reduce criminal behavior, making those who participate in the program more productive members of society.”

“In Albany we find ourselves with a rare opportunity. The LEAD program allows law enforcement to work in collaboration with residents and providers across the city. When we learn to work together, versus against each other, things start getting better,” said Paul Collins-Hackett, a representative of the Albany LEAD Community Leadership Team.

“We’re proud to be one of the community partners in the LEAD program in Albany. We believe that programs like LEAD can achieve better outcomes than the traditional criminal justice system for certain people suffering with addiction, mental health issues, homelessness, and other problems. Our goal at Catholic Charities is to recognize the human dignity of every person, and to get important social services to those who need it most. LEAD will provide an avenue so that people who may not have other resources can get that help from numerous community partners rather than through the criminal justice system,” said Vincent W. Colonno, CEO, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany.

“This is a historic moment for the City of Albany and the State of New York. LEAD provides a real alternative for people challenged by these issues while protecting public safety and improving the health of our community. We are honored to be such an integral partner in this project, and look forward to working with our partners to implement a harm reduction and person-centered model that can be expanded throughout the state and beyond,” said Keith Brown, Executive Director, Catholic Charities Care Coordination Services.

“Albany Medical Center’s DSRIP Program is pleased to partner with the City of Albany, Catholic Charities, other key stakeholders and the community to provide funding support to the city’s LEAD initiative. The goals of the initiative align with the State’s Medicaid re-design efforts. We look forward to our engagement in this important initiative,” said Dr. George Clifford, PhD, Executive Director of the Center for Health Systems Transformation at Albany Medical Center.

“As an organization that represents hundreds of businesses, we believe and recognize the value of proactive community policing and socially engaged law enforcement. We also have seen first hand and recognize the tremendous value to the community when service providers and police are working together to reduce recidivism,” said Anthony Capece, Executive Director of the Central Avenue Business Improvement District. “When working in partnership with business we see this as an opportunity to give people an opportunity to make their lives better and therefore increase the quality of life for everyone in the region. We support the idea of a taking a proactive street level approach for non-violent individuals being diverted into effectively managed services as an alternative to a revolving door through the criminal justice system. Therefore, in the long run, we see a LEAD program as a benefit to the business community that will reduce crime, conserve valuable municipal resources, and in return create an economic benefit to the community as a whole.”

gabriel sayegh, Co-Director of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice and advisor with the LEAD National Support Bureau, said: “For nearly 50 years, we’ve been stuck with the failed war on drugs, which has fed unprecedented mass incarceration, harmed police-community relations, led to gross racial disparities, and diminished both public safety and public health. While Congress and state legislatures balk, cities are taking action – and today, Albany is demonstrating national leadership. The LEAD project isn’t a silver bullet, but it represents a critical piece in a constellation of broader reforms. Hopefully, other cities in New York and around the country will follow suit.”


More To Explore