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Rift Over LEAD Program Threatened Its Future

Posted by Steve Karimi | Feb 26, 2020 | 0 Comments

Last month, in one of our blogs, we discussed how Seattle has often been seen as an example of how a city should target issues behind criminal behavior. One of the more popular programs in Seattle that has been successful in stemming the number of repeat offenders of low-level crime has been the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program. But a recent rift between the mayor and city council over LEAD threatened its future.

LEAD Program

LEAD was started in 2011 and has been a collaboration between defense attorneys and the Seattle Police Department. Its goal was to find alternative ways to arresting the same people over and over again for minor criminal offenses such as drug abuse and prostitution. It is not a program to solve homelessness but rather address some of the criminal behavior that homeless people may commit.

LEAD emphasizes getting people into case management and support services instead of sending them to jail. The LEAD program has shown positive results, with one study showing that the program lowered the odds of someone being re-arrested by fifty-seven percent. Its success has been noticed and copied in several other cities across the country, including Albuquerque, New Orleans, and Las Vegas.

Mayor Withholds Money

Last fall, the city council approved an additional $3.5 million to go toward LEAD—more than double what the city spent on it in 2018. The extra money was to address the backlog of cases waiting to be seen by caseworkers. The problem? Until late last week, Mayor Jenny Durkan refused to release all of the allocated money to the program, saying that she wanted to hire an expensive outside consultant to analyze it and justify its services and budget.

LEAD staff members said that by withholding the money, they were unable to plan for the future and address their current critical needs, such as easing the workload of their caseworkers. The Deputy Director with the Public Defender Association, which oversees LEAD, said, "We can't continue on how we are right now. It's breaking case managers. We're seeing higher turnover. We're starting to get client complaints." 


City council member Lisa Herbold said she could not recall “any budget adds not being funded” after a budget was approved and passed in the twenty years she has been on the council. The mayor's actions call into question about how future budgets will be determined if there is a precedent for the mayor to ignore what the city council approved.

Last Thursday, nineteen civic organizations signed a letter urging the mayor to release all of the approved funds to LEAD. The next day the mayor announced she would release all $6.2 million of the budget within the next two weeks, but the city still has a contract with an outside consultant to “examine how LEAD fits into the shifting realities of a city that has more people living outside with serious behavioral and substance use issues.” 

Defense Attorney Steve Karimi

One way to make sure you don't become a statistic in Seattle's crime data is to fight any criminal charges you may be facing aggressively. Steve Karimi is a former King County prosecutor who knows how to fight the criminal justice system and get you the results you are looking for. Call 206-621-8777 or fill out an online contact form today to get started.

About the Author

Steve Karimi

Steve Karimi attended Pepperdine University School of Law. After graduation he worked as a prosecutor in Seattle where he gained valuable insight to the criminal justice system. Attorney Karimi uses his experiences as a prosecutor everyday only now he fights for the justice of those accused.


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If you were arrested or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Seattle or surrounding areas of Washington State, the Law Offices of Steve Karimi can help. Call 206-660-6200 24 hours a day for a free consultation.

Seattle Defense Lawyer

Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.