ITHACA, N.Y. –– The City of Ithaca announced last week that the local Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program, or LEAD, introduced by city government back in 2017 as a way to reform the criminal justice system, has received a grant totaling $900,000 from the federal government.

This comes after years of dead-ends for the program and also a reinvigorated call for change to law enforcement practices.

The grant comes from the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Comprehensive Opioid, Stimulant, and Substance Abuse Program, COSSAP and according to Mayor Svante Myrick, will optimistically be put into training immediately so the program can launch by the spring of 2021.

Funds from the COSSAP grant are to be distributed over the course of three years, with operating costs of the program expected to be over $200,000 per year. The money will be partially divided between Travis Brooks, one of the originators of the local program and director of the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC) for his work with the program providing project management and community education.

Brooks said the funding needed to get LEAD up and running was a lot more than originally expected.

“When we first put out a proposal two years ago, we thought that you could manage LEAD for $50,000 to $100,000 a year. A group of us went to a training in Seattle in January (…) one that was a little more in depth about budgets (…) and it was pretty clear that $100,000 a year wasn’t going to get the job done,” Brooks said. 

In addition the police will receive money for LEAD training sessions, and REACH (Respectful, Equitable, Access to Compassionate Healthcare) Medical will also be getting funding for its work providing case managers for those who enter the program and are struggling with addiction.

Myrick is hoping once the three years are over, the benefit of the program will be so clear that it will be easier to create room to support it within annual municipal budgets at the city and county level. That benefit, he said, will be graded in three primary areas.

“One, fewer people spending time in jail. Two, is the public becoming safer, are there fewer crimes being committed because people are actually getting the treatment they need instead of cycling in and out? And three, is it freeing up our officers to do more quality of life work?” Myrick said.

Created using goals from the 2016 Ithaca Plan, the Ithaca LEAD Program (ILP) is designed to overhaul the way law enforcement responds to crime and improve public safety by focusing on harm reduction and strengthening police-community relations. ILP is modeled off of other similar programs in cities like Albany and Seattle.

“LEAD has been proven to improve racial equity, reduce crime, and decrease the workload on police –– all top priorities for the City of Ithaca,” Myrick said about the program.

Overall, ILP will look to lower the number of those arrested and entering the criminal justice system due to crimes of addiction, poverty and mental health, and hopes to mitigate some of the racial disparities caused by the criminal justice system.

“Ithaca is program rich but not always rich in programs that meet the needs of those intended to be served. LEAD meets the needs of individuals where they are, not where we expect them to be,” Brooks said, looking forward to LEAD’s start.

Myrick further added that “This grant will finally allow us to pursue adoption of LEAD here in Ithaca, and I am grateful to Travis Brooks for his stellar leadership in securing nearly $1 million in outside funds to benefit our community. I’m grateful to Chief Nayor for his steadfast support for this program, and to REACH medical for their invaluable service to those most overlooked. Together we can build an even safer and more equitable City.”

Ithaca Voice Intern James Baratta contributed to this report

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com