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Albany City, County Co-develop LEAD Program To Reduce Low-Level Arrests

WAMC Photo by Dave Lucas

The police-community dynamic is poised to make a dramatic shift in Albany. The city and Albany county announced a plan today to reduce low-level arrests, recidivism, and racial disparities.

Dr. Alice Green, director of the Center for Law and Justice, gave opening remarks: "I stand here in what I believe to be one of the grandest moments in the history of the city and the county of Albany. I stand here with some leaders who are key to our community. And we collaborated for a long period of time and they brought us to this moment of agreement, which is fantastic... "  Green talking there  about officials who collaborated on and eventually greenlightedLEAD: the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program. It’s recognized as a gamechanger in its birth city, Seattle, where re-arrests have dropped a staggering 60 percent since its implementation in 2011.

LEAD is praised by officials as an innovative pre-booking diversion program that empowers officers to redirect low-level offenders engaged in criminal activity involving things like prostitution or drugs to community-based services instead of jail and prosecution.

Albany becomes the third city in the United States, and first in the Northeast, to adopt the LEAD program.

Local community leaders spent months studying and meeting over LEAD, eventually realizing they were looking at a program that could make real social impact on the neighborhood level.

Newly named Albany Police Chief Brendan Cox says what makes LEAD unique is that the beat or responding officer will choose whether to make an arrest or facilitate a diversion...  "So he's really gonna base that on his interaction with the person. What the crime is, which I'm gonna have a working group of officers that are gonna get together, they're gonna make some policy decisions on y'know what charges would be appropriate, how that all would work. But the key to this, and this is the same in Seattle, the key to this is to have it be driven by the officers."

Community leaders are receptive:  Activist Marlon Anderson says he'll give it a chance.  "This is a good step down the road in improved police-community relations. It's a system to better serve the people as opposed to the people serving the system."  First Ward Common Council member Dorcey Applyrs sees LEAD as a bridge between police and community members.  "Making sure that in the event that they are in need of mental health services, shelter, food, the basic necessities, that this program has the capacity and the people working for this program who ensure that those individuals get the services that they need to prevent them from going out and committing crime."  Fourth Ward Councilman Kelly Kimbrough is a former police officer:   "This is an alternative to incarceration. The longer we can keep people in their lives, I think the better. From a law enforcement standpoint, I think that it's a great thing."

Chief Cox says LEAD will also help keep officers out on the streets and not stuck filling out and filing mountains of paperwork —  the rollout process has begun. Leaders representing Albany are off to the White House next week, to expand discussion about the LEAD initiative.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan:   “We are all going to sign an agreement and move forward to adopt LEAD here in our community, because we know it will make our community safer, it will make our community fairer, and it will address the issues of inequity that have plagued our community for far too long.”

Dr. Green sums up LEAD in a single word: HOPE.  "Hope that we are headed toward social justice where black lives matter, and all lives matter."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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