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Jail-diversion program on the line in Seattle budget negotiations

Policing and homeless services are high profile items in Seattle's proposed budget. A program that helps drug users touches on both. Now, the fate of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program is stirring up debate.

Through LEAD, police connect low level drug and prostitution suspects to community services, instead of arresting them.

Under Mayor Ed Murray's budget proposal, the program would see a $150,000 cut in 2017. That was the amount of one-time funding given to the program in 2016, on top of LEAD's $830,000 budget from the city. Murray wants the extra $150,000 to go to homeless outreach work, instead, in the future.

The majority of City Council members say that's not what they want. Councilmember Kshama Sawant has filed an amendment to keep the $150,000 going to LEAD.

Sawant: "What makes LEAD so effective is its goal of reducing recidivism... and helps individuals who find themselves in extremely unfortunate situations like substance abuse, get them to a point where they get treatment, a job and housing."

A University of Washington study in 2015 found that LEAD participants are less likely to be arrested in the future. Police teams practice LEAD in Capitol Hill, Belltown and the Skyway area of unincorporated King County. It's partially paid for by the county.

Sawant and other City Council members say instead of trimming the funding, they would like to see LEAD expanded beyond Capitol Hill and Belltown instead.

The City Council will vote on changes to Murray's budget in November.

Correction 10/25/2016: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the amount Mayor Ed Murray proposed for the LEAD budget. The program will continue to receive about $830,000 in city dollars under the mayor's plan.

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