By Jamie Wiggan
McKees Rocks may join a group of neighboring municipalities in testing a diversionary program for keeping petty offenders out of the justice system.
With sister programs already operating throughout the United States, the University of Pittsburgh is working with the Allegheny County Health Department to pilot a local Law Enforcement-Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program this fall.
The group of three-to-five participating communities has not yet been finalized, however, the McKees Rocks council passed a resolution March 9 expressing interest on behalf of the borough.
Kelley Kelley, LEAD community engagement coordinator, told officials prior to the vote the program could improve community safety while saving police time and steering on course many at risk of cycling indefinitely through the justice system.
“This is a way to connect them to services that can meet them where they’re at,” she said. First trialed in Seattle and now operating across several states, LEAD was founded in 2011 on the idea that many small-time offenders are primarily in need of social and emotional support, and can easily be steered away from a life of crime and incarceration with the right interventions.
According to a study by the LEAD National Support Bureau, program participants are 58% less likely to face arrest within six months of completion than those in a control group.
Police Chief Rick Deliman, who has discussed the program with LEAD officials, voiced his support for testing it in McKees Rocks, where crime runs pervasive.
“I do believe it could be valuable and useful to the police department and the McKees Rocks community in general,” Deliman said. “I think it would be valuable in trying to divert some people who ultimately needed help as opposed to punishment.”