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Crime diversion program to focus on north Seattle car campers

Instead of a trip to jail, petty criminals on the city’s north end may soon get a second chance to turn their lives around. The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program has proven effective in other parts of the city, and now it’s going to be tried out on car campers in the north precinct. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - Instead of a trip to jail, petty criminals on the city’s north end may soon get a second chance to turn their lives around.

The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program has proven effective in other parts of the city, and now it’s going to be tried out on car campers in the north precinct.

“People living in cars that have been parking on residential streets have been a major problem,” said John Lombard, who has tracked the troubles as a member of the D5 Community Network.

Lombard said his group was an early supporter of the LEAD Program, and believes it could make a real difference.

“We definitely support that approach,” Lombard said. “The people perpetrating these crimes really don't need what the criminal justice system is going to be able to provide. They need services that can help them get out of the life that leading them into this crime."

In its north precinct rollout, LEAD would focus on helping people living in vehicles who are committing low-level crimes like drug use or prostitution.

City councilmembers got an update on the expansion efforts on Tuesday afternoon. Instead of hauling offenders to jail, police would have the option to hand-off the violator to a LEAD case worker who could offer help with addiction, housing, even mental health.

“A majority of the people that are out here that are doing this kind of stuff are not violent criminals, they are doing stuff to support habits and things like that, and I think they need help,” said Geof Alm, who lives in north Seattle.

With the emphasis in the north precinct on helping car campers, some of the program's money will pay to repair broken-down vehicles. That way, the owners can move them every 72 hours as required by the city, instead of camping out for weeks in one spot.

Program administrators said LEAD is meant to end a cycle of arrests and re-offenses, and not to give people a free-pass on committing crimes.

“We've been working with the community, with the police department, with business owners and service providers about what they are seeing in the north precinct and how LEAD services would best benefit them,” said Tara Moss with the Public Defenders Association.

Studies show that people in LEAD are 58 percent less likely to be re-arrested than those who go through the traditional criminal justice system. It’s also been shown to reduce court and jail costs.

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