Wyo. officers use $345K grant to curb recidivism in substance abuse users
Local police and sheriff's deputies can now refer a substance misuse suspect to a case worker and get that person immediate and long-term help
By Jim McKay
CHEYENNE, Wyo. — It's frustrating for police to arrest a person for drug charges only to have to arrest the same person the very next day for the same charge.
Police in Cheyenne, Wyo., have a new weapon against having to arrest the same people over and over: The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program (LEAD) consists of a partnership of the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, the Cheyenne Police Department, Laramie County Sheriff's Office and Tyler Technologies.
Through Tyler, local police and sheriff's deputies can refer a substance misuse suspect to a case worker and get that person immediate help, first with immediate needs, such as food and transportation, then with longer-term substance abuse needs.
"From a law enforcement perspective, the biggest problem when we're talking about user-level drug issues is we deal with the same people over and over and over," said Cheyenne PD Capt. David Janes.
"Officers will contact someone under the influence of narcotics. We take them to jail, they're in jail for less than 12 hours and released," Janes said. "We can contact them the very next day and have the very same issue."
The program is voluntary, but once a suspect is referred there is quite a bit of follow-up from a case worker from Cheyenne Regional Medical Center to try and get that person some help.
Help first comes in the form of taking care of that person's immediate needs, which could be as simple as getting something to eat, filling out forms, and helping them find housing or a job. Once those issues are handled, the issue of substance use can be addressed.
So far, it's working.
"We'll have 50 to 60 contacts a year with [an individual], and then all of a sudden after a LEAD referral, we don't have any," Janes said. "It makes a huge difference."
The program got started just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, which put the brakes on progress. It's just now getting back into gear.
Once the police officer makes a stop and comes across a subject who may be under the influence, the officer can make a referral to LEAD so the subject can get help. The referral can be in the form of a "warm hand-off," meaning the subject will be put into contact live at that moment with a case worker.
A little bit of time for the officer to refer the subject on the spot might mean a lot more time later for the officer to focus on other aspects of their job.
"A lot of it comes down to [the fact] that the officers are busy," Janes said. "We have 111 officers here and we average between 70,000 and 80,000 calls for service a year. Our officers don't have extra time to follow up."
But the technology makes it easy for the police and case workers to track the individuals.
"Tyler's public safety suite empowers our clients to share critical information across agencies to enable programs like LEAD to better help their constituents," Emma Bowlby, product analyst at Tyler Technologies, said via email. Bowlby wrote that the records management software presents the information entered by police and keeps track of activities the individual has engaged in.
"From a health-care perspective, the goal of the program is to really address recidivism and ensure we aren't incarcerating people for crimes related to substance abuse, poverty and mental illness," said Brittany Wardle, Cheyenne Regional Medical Center's community prevention project director.
Wardle said there's really no formal graduation process for participants of the program; instead, it's more of a matter of being able to interact with the subject and help as needed. "It tends to be a very flexible definition in terms of being an active participant," Wardle said.
"We want to make sure we are supporting everyone we can because not everyone is ready and willing and able to make immediate changes," she said. "It's really supporting them through the journey."
The program is funded through a federal Bureau of Justice grant of $344,650.
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