Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD)
Since 2008, the RDP's primary focus has been on the development and implementation of a pre-booking diversion program for low-level drug and prostitution offenders. The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program in Seattle, King County is supported by an unusually wide array of collaborators. In addition to the RDP, local policy makers, including the Seattle City Mayor, King County Executive, King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, Seattle City Attorney, King County Sheriff's Office, and Seattle Police Department, are all committed to implementing LEAD. More information about LEAD can be found on the LEAD website or the LEAD Facebook profile.
As part of its work on LEAD, the RDP is working to develop a leadership development program for individuals involved in street level drug activity. The Leadership Development program will serve women and men between the ages of 18 and 35.The long-term goal is to increase the civic engagement of LEAD participants in policy decisions that impact their communities. Participants will learn about community organizing, develop skills as public speakers and advocates through workshops and participation in public policy debates. Participants will not be expected to take a particular position on a particular issue, but rather empowered to choose a position on an issue that matters to them and to advocate for it.
The leadership program is based on the premise that political consciousness and empowerment are important to healing and recovery. Developing a critical analysis of the social, political, and economic circumstances that contributed to a LEAD participant’s involvement with the criminal justice system can be a powerful tool in overcoming the traumas that the criminal justice system may have imposed on LEAD participants and their families. Becoming a participant in efforts to transform those conditions can promote self-discovery, understanding, and empowerment. For more information on this program, contact John Page at email@example.com.
Beginning in 2005, the RDP identified as an important area of focus, the exclusion of young people of color from public spaces through the use of police “trespass admonishments.” These banning orders purported to ban the recipient from entering or remaining in specified locations otherwise open to the public, such as parks, sidewalks, housing complexes, shopping districts, and sidewalks, for a certain period of time. Except for parks exclusions lasting more than 7 days, there was no hearing or appeal process available whatsoever to challenge the bans. Because the bans were imposed by law enforcement without judicial approval or review, the practice was almost certainly unconstitutional. Moreover, there were no defined standards for the exercise of this police discretion.
Banning was damaging in at least three ways: (1) if the recipient violated the ban, she could later be arrested and prosecuted for criminal trespass; (2) alternatively, if the recipient abided by the ban, she could lose access to aspects of her community and family; and (3) in either case, the ban could damage recipients' sense of being equal members in the community.
Anita Khandelwal obtained a Soros Justice Advocacy Fellowship in order to focus on changing this practice. Khandelwal and other RDP staff worked with all four Seattle-King County public defense agencies and community activists to develop a strategy to change banning practices. This coalition sent the Seattle City Attorney a letter threatening litigation if the practice was not changed. Simulataneously, RDP staff met with members of the business community to understand what their public safety needs were, in order to develop an alternative to the practice of law-enforcement issued bans.
Working with the Seattle Police Department, the Downtown Seattle Association, other business-owners and community activists, the RDP was able to help put an end to police-issued bans. Instead, law enforcement officers are now empowered to help business owners enforce specific rules on their property, but do not prevent a rule-abiding citizen from being on the property. Click here for more information.
King County Metro uses similar bans. The RDP continues to work on changing this practice.
Selective Enforcement Litigation
In 2000, the RDP commissioned a study by graduate researchers at the Kennedy School of Government. The study analyzed whether there was a causal relationship between Seattle Police Department (SPD) enforcement choices and the racial composition of those arrested in Seattle on drug crimes. In a report released in spring 2001, they concluded that there was. Using this study, other evidence, and the procedural model of the racial profiling litigation brought in New Jersey in the mid-1990s, the RDP moved for discovery on a selective enforcement motion to dismiss a group of consolidated drug prosecutions in King County Superior Court. The trial judge granted extensive discovery and made a number of favorable preliminary rulings. In spring 2005, that case effectively ended, when the RDP won a decision in the state Court of Appeals affirming the trial judge’s order, which permitted the RDP to depose numerous police commanders about the department’s priorities and policies in drug enforcement. This appears to be the first appellate court decision in the nation to uphold a trial court’s discovery order in a selective enforcement case since U.S. v. Armstrong, 517 U.S. 456 (1996), the Supreme Court case which raised the threshold to get discovery in such cases. Shortly thereafter, the prosecutor made offers to the RDP's clients to plead to reduced charges for time served, which they accepted in light of the fact that they faced up to 10 years in prison if the RDP were ultimately unsuccessful on its selective enforcement motion.
Based on the data obtained in discovery, experts working with our litigation team issued reports [insert link to report] concluding that Seattle drug arrests were dramatically racially disproportionate to the composition of the “actual offender population.” The most striking formulation of these findings was that a black drug deliverer in Seattle was 33 times more likely to be arrested by SPD, than a white person committing the same crime. The sociologist working with the RDP, Katherine Beckett, who later became an OSI Advocacy Fellow (2007- 2008) and Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington, concluded that there appeared to be no race-neutral explanation for the disparity. Her research was cited [insert link here] by a U.S. District Court judge in a challenge to felon disenfranchisement as “compelling evidence of racial discrimination and bias in Washington’s criminal justice system.” While the first round of litigation assisted our individual clients, it also greatly advanced local community activists’ understanding of precisely how racial bias influences Seattle drug enforcement. For the first time, the RDP was able to demonstrate conclusively that similarly-situated white offenders were being ignored by the police. The arrest, complaint and crime data obtained by the RDP allowed it to make a convincing case that drug arrests did not improve community safety. This enabled us to form alliances with constituencies, especially low-income communities of color, who oppose racial bias but also have a strong interest in improving public safety for their members.
In 2006, the RDP commenced a second round of selective enforcement litigation in a group of cases where black defendants faced felony charges stemming from low-level drug arrests by SPD. The ACLU Drug Law Reform Project and private pro bono attorneys were co-counsel. The effort again succeeded in compelling discovery to support the selective enforcement claim, and enabled Professor Beckett to complete a comprehensive study of SPD drug arrests from 1999-2006. She found that these drug arrests concentrated overwhelmingly on black suspects, when white offenders were the clear majority of the actual offender population. She also concluded that there was no evident race-neutral explanation for the arrest pattern.
On the eve of releasing Professor Beckett's report, Race and Drug Law Enforcement in Seattle, in Fall 2008, the RDP and co-counsel determined that SPD was on the cusp of committing to a pre-booking diversion effort for low-level drug offenders, which would represent a significant paradigm shift in drug law enforcement in a major U.S. urban jurisdiction. The RDP concluded that the harm of racial disparity in drug enforcement would be reduced more effectively by partnering with SPD to bring that shift about, than by continued public focus on allegations of systematic racial bias. The King County Prosecutor subsequently offered a favorable settlement of our individual clients’ cases, vacating their felony convictions and securing their immediate release; our clients accepted these offers, and the litigation has been concluded. The RDP then began working together with law enforcement and prosecutor agencies on the pre-booking diversion program that later became known as LEAD.
Drive to Survive
Drive to Survive was a grassroots ad hoc committee launched by African American clients of RDP attorneys who were being prosecuted, and having their cars impounded and sold, for driving while their licenses were allegedly suspended due to unpaid minor traffic fines. Because black drivers receive 2.5 times more minor traffic citations than do white drivers in Seattle, and because of the correlation between race and inability to pay those fines, 44% of those losing their cars were black, even though Seattle is only approximately 8.3% black. The Drive to Survive Campaign led to many courts around the state voluntarily assisting low-income clients in regaining their license by reaching reasonable terms on outstanding traffic tickets, and to a state requirement that courts offer reasonable time payment plans or community service for traffic fines. In 2005, the Drive to Survive Campaign finally succeeded in ending Seattle’s car impoundment program because of its racially disproportionate impact. Press about this issue is available here.