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Snohomish County program aims to help those in crisis avoid jail

The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program could provide common ground between police and those looking to defund them.

EVERETT, Wash. — Social worker Kelli Roark has been embedded with Everett Police for two-and-a-half years.

It's her job to help figure out what is a criminal situation and what is a crisis situation.

But the caseload is so heavy, she can only do so much.

"Some people need a lot more hand-holding than other folks," said the former nurse. "They need a lot more assistance than I have the time to provide."

To provide more support, the state is giving Snohomish County a grant of $1.68 million to hire additional social workers that will provide long-term support for low level, repeat offenders.

The idea is to keep them in treatment, off the streets and out of jail.

"We need to see if we can get them into a less expensive, more effective long-term solution that really makes a difference in their lives and reduces the impact on the entire criminal justice system," said Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman.

The move comes as people are marching in the streets of Everett and elsewhere demanding money be taken away from police departments after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. Floyd had been accused of passing counterfeit currency.  

Templeman believes the creation of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) is a good way to build bridges. It's modeled after a similar program in King County, which has seen some success.

"I think this is innovative in the sense that we're not taking the traditional law enforcement approach," Templeman said. "It reduces the anxiety of the individuals we're dealing with. When we have social workers working alongside us they see us as an ally."

The Lynnwood Police Department is also taking part in the project.

The money is not being given directly to police departments. Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell applied for the grant and will manage the grant through his office. 

"We will implement LEAD without burdening local taxpayers," Cornell said. "We will make our community safer."

For Kelli Roark, the program is an opportunity to see the all hard work does every day have a real impact.

"I'm incredibly hopeful," she said. "There are so many people I wish I could give more of my time to. To pass that warm hand-off and say this is a person I really think would benefit is something I've wanted for quite some time."

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