SAN FRANCISCO—The San Francisco Department of Public Health has collaborated with the San Francisco Police Department, BART Police, San Francisco District Attorney, Public Defender, Sheriff’s Department, Adult Probation, and community partners Glide, Felton Institute and Drug Policy Alliance to create a diversion program aimed at reducing incarcerations of those with mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders. The program was rolled out on March 31.

San Francisco’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program (LEAD SF), is a pre-booking diversion program that requires people with mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders to receive rehabilitation treatment, before they are incarcerated.

According to, LEAD SF will refer repeat, low-level drug offenders, at the earliest contact with law enforcement, to community-based health and social services, as an alternative to jail and prosecution.

The San Francisco Health Department, which is leading the program, is reported to have received preliminary notice of a $5.9 million grant from the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) to support the initiative.

LEAD SF program is rolled out after the success of a similar program in Seattle. It will focus on two parts of the city – the Tenderloin/Civic Center BART Station and the Mission/16th Street BART Station, where drug and mental health related incarcerations abound.

Participants of the program will have access to the city’s extensive system of care that includes comprehensive behavioral health services, physical health services, transitional housing, employment and other relevant services. Eligible individuals encountered by SFPD or BART PD will be diverted to a LEAD SF intake site, where they will work with a case manager to establish an individualized treatment plan, the SF Department of Health states on its website.

LEAD SF initiative was undertaken by Garcia, Sheriff Vicki Hennessy and Roma Guy who chaired the 34-member work group of criminal justice and mental health experts from the city and the community. The group met from January to October 2016 to identify investments in mental health and capital projects needed to uphold public safety and better serve at-risk individuals.

“This new partnership will improve cleanliness and safety at Civic Center and 16th Street/Mission BART stations by helping move those suffering from addiction or mental illness out of our stations and into a clinic or program where they can get the help they need,” said BART’s Acting Police Chief Jeff Jennings.