Innovative Policing Model Offers Hope to Phillipsburg Residents

The New Jersey Office of the Attorney General is collaborating with Prevention is Key to bring Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) to New Jersey

By: TAP into Phillipsburg Staff

Phillipsburg, NJ  – The New Jersey Office of the Attorney General granted funding to Prevention is Key (PIK) to develop and implement LEAD, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion initiative in Phillipsburg and Irvington. LEAD is a collaborative model to promote relationships that support law enforcement, social services providers, public defenders, and prosecutors to create new and more effective approaches to working together on low-level criminal conduct.

LEAD seeks to identify persons involved with the criminal justice system who have substance use disorders, behavioral health concerns, and/or extreme poverty and link them with existing services through intensive case management. The goals are to reduce the number of Phillipsburg residents who cycle in and out of Warren County Jail, to reduce racial inequity in the criminal justice system, and to improve relations with law enforcement. 

The LEAD program in Phillipsburg is important because dealing with the mental health crisis and its impact on crime is not something that law enforcement should have to deal with on their own.  Having the appropriate parties at the table can help make the change that is needed” Lori Ciesla, Warren County Commissioner said. The program is located in town, and case workers have been explaining the program to members of local support groups and community members. 

LEAD was developed in Seattle, Washington in 2011 as a result of an unprecedented collaboration of law enforcement prosecutors, civil rights advocates, public defenders, political leaders, mental health and substance use treatment providers, housing providers and other social service agencies, and business and community leaders. This group worked together to provide a “supportive off-ramp” from the criminal justice system into community-based harm reduction case management. LEAD participants in Seattle were 58% less likely to be arrested after enrollment in LEAD, compared to those who went through the “system as usual” criminal justice processing. LEAD staff meets people “where they are” both figuratively and literally and uses a harm reduction approach in their case management.

Local Police work with County Prosecutors, Town leaders and Case Management

In the LEAD initiative, Phillipsburg Police officers exercise discretionary authority at the point of contact with a person who could be charged with low-level criminal offenses. Many low-level offenses are driven by unmet behavioral health needs for substance use disorder mental illness, and extreme poverty. The Policy Coordinating Group, including the Phillipsburg Police Chief and Warren County Prosecutors and other department heads and town leaders, developed and agreed upon divertible offenses. Individuals may voluntarily accept participation with LEAD case management where they will receive a wide range of support services, housing support, referrals for substance use disorder treatment and recovery support, mental health counseling, transportation, health care, vocational training, education, employment, and other services.

Phillipsburg Police Chief Stettner is grateful that his officers will have the ability to reach out to case managers to provide the necessary resources our citizens need while easing the burden on the Police Department. A definite step forward in helping our citizens. Charles Boddy, President of the Warren/Sussex NAACP supports LEAD because it “provides equity and inclusion, lifts the downtrodden, and increases awareness of services for Phillipsburg residents.”

“There is a serious need in the Town of PBurg, as well as the Phillipsburg area for non-traditional services for individuals with substance abuse and mental health issues commented Kenneth Decker of the Warren County Prosecutor’s Office

In lieu of arrest diversion, Phillipsburg Police officers have also been trained to conduct Social Contact Referrals to LEAD. Social Contact Referrals are for individuals with a history of low-level criminal offenses who are likely to re-offend to connect them with services to address unmet behavioral health needs and needs associated with poverty. In the future, LEAD staff expect to be able to accept Community-Based Referrals as LEAD develops in Phillipsburg.

About Prevention is Key, Inc.
Prevention is Key is dedicated to the promotion of the health and well-being of our community, the prevention of substance abuse, addiction, violence, and related issues through heightened awareness, advocacy, education, programs, services, information, and referrals. PIK is a private, non-profit, community-based health organization serving the seven northern counties in New Jersey. PIK provides science-based prevention education programs, professional development training, advocacy, information, and referral services, that address issues of substance abuse prevention, recovery support, violence prevention, substance use disorder, and other emerging issues of concern to the community.

“This project [LEAD] marks a groundbreaking expansion of our services in New Jersey, “ shared PIK’s Executive Director, Christopher Goeke. “Our philosophy has always been to disrupt the status quo and find ways to do more to help those in need. This is a remarkable continuation of that work. Everything we do is rooted in our mission and our commitment to help every person, every day.”