Why a Police Program Wants to Keep Drug Offenders Out of Jail

In Seattle, authorities are taking a new approach with the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program.
9:01 | 10/08/15

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Transcript for Why a Police Program Wants to Keep Drug Offenders Out of Jail
We begin with the new frontier in the war on drugs. It's a pioneering program that gets addicts on the path to recovery instead of putting them in jail even if they're still using. And tonight those on the front lines show ABC's chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser how the new approach makes cities safer for everyone. Reporter: In the war on drugs -- ING into my ? ? t-shirt right there your hair messed like a guns-n-roses video ?? ooh ooh so hot still got it up in my head were moving around ? I ain't ever seen anything like your dress my floor the way you wore my t-shirt ? ? Oh no baby no I can't lie there. Reporter: Officers victor Maes and Leslie mills are part of a first of its kind program called law enforcement-assisted division, L.E.A.D. You're burned out? Reporter: A radical new idea for policing that treats drug addiction as a disease. Hoping reduction in crime will follow. They're not bad people, the people using. They're victimized by drug dealers who are preying on their addictions. Of course they're not going to get better. Reporter: This unit is tasked with getting to know users in just one Seattle neighborhood, belltown. Because we know the faces of the people down here, we're able to do all the other work. How are we going to assist you to get a better life? Reporter: And then the program gives the officers the option for putting low-level drug offenders not into jails -- You're not shooting at all? No. Reporter: But onto a path to recovery. You saved me from jumping out the window of my apartment. They know if this van stops, something's going to happen. Somebody's going to jail. Or somebody's going to be helped. How are you doing, how are things going? Reporter: Users who join L.E.A.D. Get a counselor, one who doesn't judge. Nija Morris works together with the cops to make sure users get any kind of support they need. You okay? Yeah. Just my hand sores -- Reporter: Helping them feel part of society by finding them housing and medical care, even if they continue using drugs. Torina is one of nija's clients. That will work. I'll put this behind my ear. I'm going to work just as hard for you if you decided that you're not ready to stop using drugs because you're not at that point. We work for them and show up for them. And eventually they decide they're going to work and show up for themselves. Put that right there, right here. Reporter: Before L.E.A.D. This is one of the places Torina lived. Over these 30 years what drugs have you used? Heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, weed, pills. Reporter: Her hand, badly injured from shooting heroin. She tells me she first tried the drug at just 17. After the death of her 1-year-old son. It took all the pain and sorrow, sadness, everything just went away and I didn't feel nothing. I was numb. Reporter: She was hooked. Giving birth to her second child Deanna while high. Her daughter growing up knowing something wasn't right. When I first found out, I was a teenager with my mother. She just told me I didn't understand. I did but I didn't. Just stop, fix it. The reality is it doesn't work that way, it doesn't just fix. So this is one of the main places that I slept. Is that as low as it got? Yeah, that was the breaking point for me. That's why that day I went ahead and said, you know -- need some help. Sorry. Reporter: Last year, arrested on a drug charge, the cops gave her a chance to join L.E.A.D. Nijja set her up in this hotel far from her drug corners downtown. This beats where you were sleeping. Oh, yes. This is the real turina here. This is the person that I've always been. I was the happy mom. You know, happy wife. Getting back to myself. Still a bit of a struggle, a bit of a road ahead of me to get there. But I will get there again. This is the scenario where they come to you -- Reporter: But in this city where traces of the epidemic line the streets -- Here'sshort-opped blue et, jawhit shirt. Eporter: The Seattle police are the ont line Thi has bee used, there's heroin in . Reporr: Everyay capring ers hook on craccocaine an heroin Havenused. It dsn't Matt, you're possessing it. Reporte but ts is not standard police work. Thes S have T power T decide WHA ppens xt. Decisio have been mad to noncarcete for T right reason low-level drug offenders. You can't incarcerate your way out of a problem. Reporter: Nationally we're in the grips of one the wst heroin epidemics in hist heroin Deas have skyrocketed. So in Seattle where hern H roblemor F decades, Fe ad-upriuthoties to try somhing new. Go ahead, grab yourstuf go, go we me coact. And ga him som options. And we'll S where service calls, they're in your hospitals, in your treatment beds. You have to look at each individual and find out, why are you here? Why do you remain here? I think there's somebody underneath the car at the very end. Reporter: Back on patrol, the cops find a 21-year-old. Hey, partner. Seattle police. Reporter: High and disoriented. You okay? Reporter: Turns out he's already in the L.E.A.D. Program. Leslie tries to convince him to get back on track. Come and see me. Okay? Reporter: Addiction is powerful. And some users, even if they're in L.E.A.D., aren't ready for change. I get what I put in. Fy really want something to work for me with L.E.A.D., then I have to work at it. I left it open-ended. I saw a spark in him. If I were a betting man, I would say that I think he's going to come. Reporter: But not everyone is eligible. And most violent offenders with felony convictions are not chosen for L.E.A.D. Like this man. Just released from prison this morning. He's allegedly violated the terms of his probation. You can see residue inside this. Reporter: Drinking alcohol and carrying drug paraphernalia. But I have to -- Can you help me? Yes, I can. Will you help me please? Yes, I will. Yeah, I will. Listen. You're going to have to go to jail on this violation. We've been down this road with him. Am I going to take another chance on him? Yeah, we are. I'm tired of calling your dad because he gets mad every time I call him. But I have to weigh in that the people that are out there in the community, the one peaceful thing that we know about is that he's going to jail tonight. Drug addiction's . I've lost everything. It's really tough. Especially with the guys that are chronically depressed that you're having the same conversation over and over and over. You're beating your head against the wall. Hey, how you doing? How's it going? Jimmy: Are the next time we see turina she's clearly high. Barely able to keep her head up, almost falling asleep in her chair. You definitely took your pain medicine this morning? I took something. Not pain medicine. I don't have any more. I've got to get off the met done. Reporter: She's tried methadone before. She tells najja she's desperate to stay clean. Oh my goodness. She's having a little bit of a hard day today. Reporter: But najja doesn't give up on her. This is all part of the program. It's just a matter of hanging in there with them. Staying in communication. Just letting her go through her own process, just being there. What do you say to someone who says, I don't want my tax dollars providing support to someone who continues to use illegal drugs. The amount of money it takes to funnel the addicts through the system simply for being addicted is way more and is actually costing taxpayers more dollars than what this program is costing to give them the opportunity to do something different with their life than sit in a prison cell or jail cell. Reporter: We check in a few months later. Turina's now on methadone and working to rebuild the relationship with her daughter. That's great. I tell her frequently, I forgive you. I wish she just saw how wonderful she really is because I think the day she does see it is the day that she'll be all right. Reporter: For "Nightline," I'm Dr. Richard Besser, Seattle, Washington. Syringes, whole bunch.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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