The following letter is in response to the pilot pre-arrest diversion program that is currently being developed by Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”), the Department of Behavioral Health (“DBH”), and the Department for Human Services (“DHS”). There are several major issues in the proposed program that must be addressed by these agencies. We encourage individuals and organizations to sign on to the this letter to the D.C. Council which expresses some of our concerns with the pilot program.
We, the undersigned, write to express our deep concerns with the upcoming pre-arrest diversion program that is currently being developed by Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”), the Department of Behavioral Health (“DBH”), and the Department for Human Services (“DHS”). While the concept of a pre-arrest diversion program is admirable and is one that the unsigned support in theory, in practice a pre-arrest diversion program must address the unique needs of the citizens of Washington D.C in order to be successful. This involves developing a strategy that involves the numerous direct service organizations, community members, and service providers who understand the complexity of coordinating services. Bringing a program to the District of Columbia that works aims to improve public safety and reduce human suffering by reducing the effects of criminalization, mental health issues, homelessness, and poverty is critical to the wellbeing of our communities, however this program, in its current state, will not achieve these goals.
In preparation for Fiscal Year 2018, the DC Council awarded the Department of Behavioral Health (“DBH”) $ 970,544 for development of a pre-arrest diversion program in collaboration with the Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) and the Department for Human Services (“DHS”). This council encouraged these agencies to consider models for successful diversion programs piloted in other jurisdictions, such as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (“LEAD”)1. Unfortunately, these agencies did not seek the input or guidance of any community organizations or service providers. It was not until the program had already been developed that community groups were called to the table to discuss some aspects of the program with DBH and MPD, during these meetings it became clear that there are many important aspects of this proposed pilot program that have not been considered. Meetings informing organizations about a pilot program does not negate the fact that the program was developed without community members or anyone with lived experiences’ input.
The undersigned hope to see a broad pre-arrest diversion program in Washington D.C. that meets the needs of our clients. To achieve this we believe the following changes must be made to pilot program:
Community organizations, individuals, and service providers must be added to the current working group that is developing and overseeing the implementation of this program. They must be allowed access to those meetings and given an opportunity to share their inputs and suggestions.2 The LEAD Albany program created a Community Leadership Team which allows community members and stakeholders to attend public meetings and offer feedback and accountability.3 While direct access to the working group would be best this at least allows some vehicle for community involvement and oversight.
Under the pilot program, roughly 60 Crisis Intervention Officers will receive further training from MPD to take part in this program. Today, the contents of this training curriculum are unknown to those outside of the MPD. Moreover, no community organizations or service providers have been asked to offer some insight into what is important to our clients and how officers can best prepare to work with these vulnerable populations. Training without a clear aim or objective will not help improve the relationships between officers and residents. By including the numerous community groups and using their years of knowledge MPD will be able to create a more comprehensive training program. It will also be helpful if service providers know more about the Crisis Intervention Officers who are a part of the program so that they can all work together.
The pilot program intake process must be reconfigured to limit the trauma and harm it may place on program participants. Currently, the program will place individuals in handcuffs, put them in the back of a patrol car, and take them to a police station where they will be assessed to see if they are eligible for the diversion program. However, an intake process similar to Seattle’s LEAD program seems more desirable and less intrusive to our clients. Under this model individuals are given a the opportunity to be given a referral and then independently go and get their assessment within a certain amount of time. Since the program will not be used for individuals in crisis, this approach will allow individuals to avoid being placed in situations that mimic an arrest and may feel highly coercive. This is also in line with DC Code 23-584 which allows officers to release individuals on a citation for certain misdemeanor offenses, including the list of divertible offenses.
With the implementation of this pilot program community organizations should have access to the data that is collected, particularly regarding the demographics of those included in the program, those who decided not to participant in the program, who was referred through a social interaction, and who was referred after the police were called. Additionally, who successfully completed the program as well as what services were provided to participants. It is highly likely that many of the program participants will be former or current clients of the undersigned organizations and we hope to work together to better coordinate services and help our clients succeed. Collecting and sharing data will also help our organization and others tailor our programs to fit all the needs of our clients.
These are merely some of our current concerns with the pilot program and are no way exhaustive. We hope that the Council will consider the complexity of creating a successful pre-arrest diversion program and will ensure the inclusion of service providers and community organizations in this ongoing program. In order to make this program a success, we must emphasize the importance of working together to truly help the residents of D.C. Now is the time to set a powerful example of what inclusive, harm reduction centered, trauma-informed criminal justice reform can accomplish.
We thank the Council for taking these issues under advisement and hope we can continue to discuss what a successful pre-arrest diversion program will look like in Washington D.C.
No Justice No Pride
Drug Policy Alliance
The Chosen Few