Wicomico County launches Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program
WICOMICO COUNTY, Md. – Sometimes when dispatchers answer that phone call for help, it isn’t a matter of putting someone in handcuffs. It’s a cry for help, according to public health and safety officials.
“Officers who are out, can identify individuals who could maybe benefit from some of their assistance. Maybe there’s some unmet needs, behavioral health needs,” said Wicomico County Opioid Coordinator Christina Bowie-Simpson.
Wicomico County is launching its Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program (LEAD).
“The first thing is understanding that the person we’re dealing with is a part of the community. One of the concepts that I like about LEAD is we meet the person where they’re having their crisis at,” said Salisbury Police Department’s Capt. Howard Drewer.
Salisbury Police officers will identify individuals who have frequent run-ins with the law for issues relating to addiction and low-level crimes. Officers will then refer them to case managers at the Wicomico County Health Department.
“Maybe they need Narcan to keep them safe. Maybe they need some type of mental health therapy, substance use therapy – whatever that individual needs,” said Bowie-Simpson. “A lot of times when there are unmet needs, sometimes individuals will do what they need to do to get those needs met. Our goal as the health department is to help those individuals.”
Bowie-Simpson says potential resources could also include primary medical care, harm reduction services, housing, clothing, food, and other social service benefits. “We really want to help individuals have their basic needs met and to see what they want,” she said.
On top of helping those who need to be connected to life-improving resources, LEAD could also help alleviate the burden of cases that the criminal justice system deals with.
“For some people in some circumstances, the criminal justice system isn’t all that effective in helping to get people on their feet,” said Wicomico County State’s Attorney Jamie Dykes. “Our drug treatment court is extremely effective, and it does just that. So, we’re looking to do this on a smaller scale, but without involving the courts.”
If the program is successful, law enforcement officers could also see a decrease in calls for service in the long run.
“We normally handle around 60,000 calls, if not more, per year. If we were able to reduce that by 15% because of issues with recidivism and addiction that’s more time that we can spend on larger crimes,” said Capt. Drewer. “What we’re doing is reducing our time with people who struggle with addictions, when what we could be doing is actually reaching to the bottom and finding the solution.”
Overall, Dykes says that bringing all these moving parts together could benefit not just those individuals in the program, but Wicomico County as a whole. “If we can decrease the man hours and increase the quality of lives of everyone in the community, then we will have been a success,” she said.