Press Release  | 07/31/2013

Santa Fe City Council Approves New Model for Solving Drug and Property Crime Problems

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City Will Be Second in the Nation to Pilot Innovative Program

Model will Keep Families Together, Enhance Public Safety and Save the Criminal Justice and Health System Millions of Dollars

Santa Fe – The Santa Fe City Council has unanimously approved a program that is designed to break the cycle of arrest and addiction by diverting some drug offenders into treatment. The City will implement a pre-booking diversion pilot program, otherwise known as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), by early 2014.  The move came as a result of recommendations from the Santa Fe LEAD Task Force, which has been working for more than nine-months on the issue.

“Our state, our communities and our families are wrestling with addiction, overdose, costly incarceration and property crimes.  But our current approach to break the cycle of addiction and arrest is not working,” stated Emily Kaltenbach, New Mexico State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance and co-chair of the LEAD Santa Fe Task Force. “It is time to invest in better options by treating drug misuse as a health issue not a criminal one.  The LEAD Santa Fe project allows us to focus on goals we all agree on: protecting our kids, enhancing public safety, and preventing and treating addiction.”

LEAD identifies low-level opiate (pills and heroin) drug offenders for whom probable cause exists for an arrest and redirects them from jail and prosecution by immediately providing linkages to treatment and social supports including harm reduction and intensive case management. When the program is implemented, the city of Santa Fe will become second in the nation to implement this new model; Seattle was the first to implement in 2011.

After a nine months of studying the issue, and engaging stakeholders and the community, the LEAD Santa Fe Task Force found that the current approach - arresting and incarcerating people for small amounts of opiates without access to long-term treatment and social supports - only moves a relatively small fraction of offenders off the streets, for brief periods of time, and at a significantly higher cost than non-criminal justice system interventions.  It diverts increasingly limited law enforcement resources from more serious crimes. A cost benefit analysis conducted by the Santa Fe Community Foundation and in partnership with the LEAD Santa Fe Task Force shows that we are spending close to $1.5 million per year across the law enforcement, jail, judicial, and medical systems arresting, incarcerating, and charging people possessing heroin, pills and paraphernalia; once established, a LEAD program could cost the City half of what it is spending today.

“There are compassionate and cost-effective ways to deal with our toughest issues, and we believe that LEAD is one of them,” stated Brian Byrnes, CEO and President of the Santa Fe Community Foundation.  “All of the evidence points to the fact that jail is not the answer for those in our community who struggle with addiction. LEAD is exactly the kind of collaborative, cross-sector solution that the Santa Fe Community Foundation wants to get behind. We hope it sends a signal to other funders to do the same.”

The Santa Fe Police Department has said that property crimes in the city are directly related to an increase in the problematic use of opiates, including heroin and opiate-based pills. The New Mexico Department of Health reports that the state has the highest drug-induced death rate in the nation.  Drug induced deaths in Santa Fe County, between 2007-2011, were at 24.3 per 100,000 equal to the state rate and up from 18.1 between 2005-2009.  In New Mexico, drug overdose deaths have now surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death.

“Mayor Coss and our City Council are national leaders on these issues because of their willingness to invest in smarter solutions,” said Emily Kaltenbach, New Mexico State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance and co-chair of the LEAD Santa Fe Task Force. “Santa Fe’s LEAD program will be looked at as a model for the rest of the nation.”

Seventy-one (71%) of New Mexico voters support allowing a person caught with small amounts of drugs to be offered drug treatment instead of being incarcerated, according to SJC Research.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is the nation's leading organization of people who believe the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. DPA fights for drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights.

Contact: Emily Kaltenbach 505-920-5256 or Tony Newman 646-335-5384

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