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Policing Alternative Diversion Program

By John Prevost, Instructor, Dept. of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Georgia State University and Chris Newman, Public Safety Committee Chair, Grant Park Neighborhood Association

Have you witnessed an individual in mental health or behavioral crisis?  Atlanta now has PAD, a program to assist or relieve the police from having to intervene on many of these issues. The program is rolling out now across all police zones in the city of Atlanta. Crisis teams of two counselors are dispatched Monday through Friday from 7:00am to 7:00pm. Counselors are trained to offer services such as food or housing vouchers, referrals for physical or mental health problems, and legal assistance. The program is voluntary for the individual. The city has allocated approximately $1.9 million for the program. PAD has a staff of about 16 social workers/counselors who come from various professions and areas of training. This summer a graduate student is also working with PAD as an intern. You can access PAD by calling 311 and then follow the prompts to be connected to a dispatcher. Just as with a 911 call, the dispatcher will ask a series of questions in order to better advise the response team.

PAD began in 2017 as a pilot program in several beats in Zone 5 (downtown area) and several beats in Zone 6 (Auburn-Edgewood area). The program is called Pre-Arrest Diversion (PAD) and was modeled after Law Enforcement Assistance Diversion (LEAD), a program that had demonstrated success in Seattle, WA. The underlying principle is to free-up police to respond to serious misdemeanor or felony crimes and to alleviate jail crowding from arrests of low-level ordinance violators. A 2019 and 2020 study that involved an extensive analysis of 911 calls over several years in Atlanta found that a significant number of 911 calls for service were directly related to mental-behavioral health problems.

The NPU-W Public Safety committee is encouraged by the goals established for PAD. We are communicating with PAD officials to learn more about the details of the program; and we have spoken to the national LEAD director, officials at Grady Health Services, and APD officers. We want to know how PAD will assess its effectiveness such as whether response times to calls for service and other important metrics are being reported by PAD teams. We want to understand if there is coordination of services with APD’s HOPE team and with Grady Hospital’s ACT or mobile crisis teams. We want to better understand the PAD intake and case management processes and the numbers of monthly referrals by both APD beat officers and PAD teams. This is an ongoing conversation and we will provide NPU-W residents with periodic updates. In the meantime, we encourage residents to learn more about this new alternative way to call for assistance with neighborhood problems.

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