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Pittsburgh PD now has discretion over the handling of certain arrests

In certain police zones, low-level criminal offenders can now be referred to the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion instead of facing criminal charges

Pittsburgh Bureau of Police

Pittsburgh Bureau of Police

By Laura Esposito
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH — A program that aims to divert non-violent offenders from the court system has arrived in Pittsburgh — a move officials believe will address historic inequities and strengthen bonds between marginalized communities and law enforcement.

“There are people experiencing poverty, homelessness, drug substance use disorder that need help more than they need incarceration or any charges brought in,” Public Safety Director Lee Schmidt said.

Beginning on Thursday in police Zone 1 on the North Side and Zone 2, which covers Downtown and the Hill District, low-level criminal offenders can now be referred to the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD program, instead of facing criminal charges.

From there, the offender will work closely with one of three recently hired case managers to establish individualized goals to keep them from reoffending. The case managers provide support and help navigate systems to help participants overcome the obstacles they face.

“That case manager is an advocate for people who have been excluded and marginalized,” LEAD Director Tiarra Bryant said at a news conference at the City-County Building on Thursday.

The program’s funding stems from a recent opioid case settlement and through various grants, officials said.

In cities where LEAD has been implemented, it has proved to decrease court costs and crime, officials said. Pittsburgh has been exploring the implementation of a diversion program since 2019.

“The beauty about LEAD is that it also cuts resources for taxpayers because we’re not clogging up the courts and the jails,” said Camila Alarcon, assistant director of the city’s Office of Community Health and Safety.

Because of the program’s individualized approach, each person’s experience with LEAD looks different — but Ms. Bryant said it often starts with a conversation and a cup of coffee between the participant and a case manager.

“Then [it can] evolve to a pair of shoes, some clothes, just giving the person back their dignity,” she said.

She cited a recent example of a person who, during the program’s soft launch, received more than 15 citations in one day. Since joining LEAD, they had not committed another offense in more than three weeks.

Offenses that fit the criteria for LEAD include retail theft, prostitution, public intoxication, trespassing and disorderly conduct.

Ms. Bryant said any victim involved in a crime must consent before their offender is accepted into the LEAD program.

Pittsburgh police Chief Larry Scirotto said the program will also improve officer wellness by giving them an outlet to make a positive impact in their community.

“Building community police partnerships and improving the quality of life for citizens is an essential function for us,” he said. “Especially as we face manpower issues with staffing.”

Officials hope to implement the program in Zone 3 in Arlington and the South Side and Zone 5 in East Liberty and grow their number of case managers by year’s end. Ultimately the city would like to expand LEAD citywide, stationing at least four case managers in each zone.

“It’s a worthwhile venture that will benefit this city and benefit our community,” Chief Scirotto said. “And more importantly — benefit the most vulnerable in our community.”


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