Nonprofit focuses on alternatives over arrests in policing

Atlanta Policing Alternatives and Diversion Initiative began in 2017.

From – July 2021

Use of force policies, officer shortages and efficient use of resources have put police departments in the spotlight nationwide.

One Atlanta nonprofit aims to offer other options when it comes to dealing with the homeless, along with people with mental health issues and those struggling with addiction.

The Atlanta Policing Alternatives and Diversion Initiative, or PAD, began in 2017. It partners with the Atlanta Police Department and offers specialized training to deal with non-violent or minor criminal offenders. Since expanding to cover all of the zones patrolled by the Atlanta Police Department zones in January 2021, the nonprofit has helped more than 400 people avoid jail time according to Director of Diversions Denise White.

“They’re just wanting an alternative to arrests and incarceration, especially for quality of life issues like poverty, mental health, and substance abuse,” White said. “The best approach to public safety is actually getting that individual resources and services instead of arresting that individual.”

The idea for PAD came about in response to a program in Seattle called the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD).

Officer Robert Holmes, a 30-year military veteran and 11-year Atlanta Police veteran, recently completed PAD training. He said prioritizing care over putting people in handcuffs shows that police are working to tackle the root causes of criminal activity.

“You get that trust with them, knowing that you’re not out just to lock them up, that you have a heart, and you understand what they’re going through,” Holmes said. “There’s always something underlying that causes all this. A lot of these guys we deal with everyday. We go there, run them off one day and they’ll be back the next day. Sometimes, we arrest them and they’ll come back out and go to the same area. I can help them and guide them to the right resources to help them out.”

PAD, which received $1.5 million in funding this year from the City of Atlanta, provides resources like food, housing, phones and medical care among other essentials. Holmes said referring people to the PAD program allows for officers to respond to more demanding calls.

Police referrals to PAD accounted for about 30% of the program’s participants. Officers will get social workers and other PAD employees involved to help people avoid jail time and get proper assistance. Anyone in the community can also call PAD through 311 to refer someone to the program.

Antonio Bryant, a military veteran, has been through the PAD program for two years. He suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, turning to the streets and drugs to survive.

“I was used to living on the edge, and the edge was trying to get closer to death, I guess,” Bryant said. “Everything that lead to possibly killing me was interesting.”

Bryant said when he was facing drug charges, a couple of officers introduced him to the PAD program. He avoided jail, and he checked in with the officers every week.

“They’re like guardian angels,” Bryant said. “They really honestly and genuinely care about the recovery and placement of housing and getting help to people out on the streets who need help. You take away that crime against that person for being an addict and give them a little more hope now. If you can reach those people and they can climb out of whatever hell they’re in, they can recover and be productive citizens again.”

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