The Hamilton County Heroin Coalition is launching a pre-arrest diversion program aimed at getting people into treatment rather than going to jail.
The pilot program, known as LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion), is funded by a $500,000 federal Justice Department grant and will be implemented in Cincinnati Police District 1, which includes Mt. Adams, Over-the-Rhine, Pendleton, Queensgate and the West End.
If successful, it could be expanded elsewhere in the county.
LEAD was created in Seattle. It gives police officers discretion and tools to divert low-level, non-violent offenders into treatment rather than sending them to jail, or - given jail overcrowding issues - booking and releasing them to offend again.
Heroin Coalition Commander Lt. Tom Fallon says the program empowers officers to address the underlying problems that often prompt whatever offense that led to the police interaction.
"So if it's addiction, if it's homelessness, if it's mental health, if it's poverty ... and the cops on the street know what the people's problems are, so they have that knowledge and you're setting up a program that lets them use that beat knowledge," Fallon says.
In its first four years in Seattle's King County, a study found recidivism rates dropped nearly 60 percent.
Hamilton County Office of Reentry Director Trina Jackson says the organization is focused on the long-term.
"This is an opportunity for us to address recidivism from a prevention perspective," she says. "Keeping people diverted from the jail is, of course, keeping people out but it's also giving us an opportunity to work with them so that they don't ever enter based on some of the issues they have, especially around substance abuse."
LEAD program directors will train Cincinnati police officers on diversion tactics and case workers will be embedded with the pilot district.
"The case managers [will be] at roll call so they can interact and learn what the needs are," says Fallon. "Those needs can change and we're not going to be in a heroin epidemic forever - it might be another type of problem - and we're going to embed them into the roll call so they have that relationship."
While the focus is on heroin and opioids now, LEAD can be applied to different concerns or epidemics.
"We would like it to eventually evolve into tackling all mental health, substance use ... poverty ... all those types of things," says Heroin Coalition Program Coordinator Emily Manning.
Organizers expect to launch the pilot in late spring or early summer. The grant will fund the program for two years. More funding would be needed to expand the program, though Fallon says existing dollars could be moved from the incarceration side of the issue to the treatment side.
UC's Institute of Crime Science will track and report the program's data and outcomes.