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Cities of Cohoes, Watervliet join LEAD policing effort

Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion is now operating in the cities of Watervliet and Cohoes.
Dave Lucas
Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion is now operating in the cities of Watervliet and Cohoes.

Two Albany County cities are joining Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion programs.  

Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion is now operating in the cities of Watervliet and Cohoes. LEAD originated in Seattle. In 2015, Albany became the first East Coast city and the third in the nation to adopt it.

Now, Democratic Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler says the public safety and public health model works to reduce arrests and prosecution of low-level offenders engaged in criminal activity by referring them to community-based services, avoiding jail and prosecution.

 "It's a program that's been up and running in the city of Albany for a few years now," Keeler said. "Cohoes and Watervliet were both invited to join in, we went to some meetings. The District Attorney Dave Soares was there, it seems like a good program. The idea is that we can take some of the cases that don't necessarily need to go to criminal court, for example, mental health issues, drug issues, things like that, and divert it. So you in effect, you would have police responding to these incidents and being able to call up the lead folks, social workers, if you will, that could pick it up from there. So the police wouldn't have to make an arrest in send the person to criminal court."

Keeler, a retired New York State Police Troop Commander, says so far LEAD is a success, and individuals referred from Cohoes are sticking with the program.

Project managers at Albany LEAD and staff from the LEAD Support Bureau, which advises LEAD initiatives in more than 80 jurisdictions nationwide and internationally, worked with Watervliet and Cohoes leaders to facilitate planning and preparation for the new initiative.

 Watervliet Police Chief Joseph Centanni says officers in both municipalities participated in department-wide LEAD training in June and made their first referrals to LEAD case managers in mid-August.

"Between us and Cohoes, we have about 20 clients already," Centanni said. "And we have a two-pronged approach. It's, actually one of them is an arrest diversion. So if that's if someone commits a low-level offense, and they fit a criteria, you can divert them from arrest. But the one that we are finding to be equally as beneficial, if not more from a numbers category, is a social referral. And that is if an officer encounters anyone who they determined might be a need, or a good candidate for LEAD. It does not have to be based on an enforcement act. It can be on any interaction they have at a bus stop, in a convenience store, or any other time during the course of their shift."

Centanni touched on the cost of implementing LEAD in the two cities.

"Right now the funding is for a grant for a case manager, and the county executive’s office in conjunction, in partnership with LEAD and the Albany County District Attorney's Office, Watervliet and Cohoes applied for some federal funding, and we're lucky enough to receive it, and that that provides some funding for a caseworker or case manager to specifically focus on the city of Watervliet and the city of Cohoes. And that position comes out of Catholic Charities, who I cannot overstate how important and how critical they are to the success of this program," said Centanni.

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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