St. Louis County prosecutor’s office taking different approach with non-violent offenders

CLAYTON, Mo. – The St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is spearheading the design and implementation of a new Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) team.

Attorney Julia Fogelberg, who heads up the new diversion program, says she feel this is a better approach for addicted or mentally ill offenders.

"Diversion … it started in our office with Prosecuting Attorney Bell to try and keep low-level, non-violent offenders not only out of custody, but out of the criminal justice system,” she said. “We will work with those officers so when they identify people suffering from opioid use or substance use disorders instead of arresting them for a drug charge. They will contact our office.”

Fogelberg says the diversion program will have a specialist on-call 24 hours a day. That person will go to the scene of a police call and “help those officers to determine if a medical avenue is better way to go for that individual.”

The overall objective is to help reduce the prison population, thus leaving more resources to deal with violent crimes.

"The people who have not put the public safety at-risk and give them an option other than incarceration and getting tied up in court, while still holding them accountable," Fogelberg said.

Two St. Louis County police precincts—one in north county and one in south County—have expressed willingness to participate in planning, implementing, and piloting the program.

The St. Louis County LEAD program is funded through a Department of Justice grant designated to support local governments in the planning and development of comprehensive programs that respond to the opioid epidemic.

LEAD programs are a pre-arrest/pre-booking diversion option in which the police, prosecutors, and community service providers work together, using a trauma-informed and harm-reduction approach, to respond to low-level, nonviolent offenses such as drug possession, small-scale (subsistence-level) drug sale, and prostitution.