ITHACA, N.Y.—The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program has officially been launched in Ithaca, as announced by Travis Brooks, deputy director at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC).

The LEAD program, which was initially begun in Seattle, Washington, in 2011, allows officers to redirect individuals engaging in misdemeanor crimes to outlets of community-based services rather than allowing them to face incarceration. “Ithaca is not without remarkable social service and criminal justice programs. In fact, Ithaca is known for its progressive forward-thinking and innovative systems of care,” Brooks said.

Ithaca’s LEAD program follows proven-successful models catered to fit the local needs of the community.

“Unlike current models, the goal of LEAD is to improve public health and public safety by reducing future harm and criminal behavior caused by individuals engaged in crimes related to unmet behavioral health needs,” Brooks explained, citing collaborating organizations including the Office of the Mayor, Tompkins County Public Defender and District Attorney Offices, the Ithaca Police Department and Children’s Service of Ithaca’s Community Outreach Team.

The LEAD program will assist in breaking down barriers between police, government and community services to address the root causes of crimes related to poverty, addiction and mental health crises.

Tompkins County District Attorney Matthew Van Houten said “The Tompkins County District Attorney’s office is committed to the success of Ithaca’s LEAD program and continues to support the efforts of LEAD stakeholders in diverting our most marginalized community members from the traditional criminal justice track to essential supportive services,” noting that jail time is not always the answer and that food and housing security, as well as job training, are areas in which support can be provided.

The City of Ithaca was also awarded a $900,000 grant by the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Comprehensive Opioid, Stimulant and Substance Abuse Program to help support treatment access within the criminal justice program. “I am grateful to Travis Brooks for his stellar leadership in securing nearly $1 million in outside funds to benefit our community,” said former Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick.

The Ithaca LEAD program began assisting eligible participants in October 2021 and has accomplished 20 diversions thus far, with a 58% success rate of reducing recidivism and costs associated with participants who may have otherwise entered “the system as usual.”

Part of Ithaca’s specific LEAD model includes the Community Leadership Team (CLT) comprised of activists, affected individuals and community members which aids in bridging the gap in strained relationships between community members and local law enforcement. “The CLT was formed to facilitate the strengthening of both public safety and public health in Ithaca. We do this by coordinating the sharing of information between the impacted community and stakeholders in the city of Ithaca,” Gloria Coicou, liaison to the CLT, said.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...