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[Ben Gray/Atlanta Journal-Constitution]


Location: Atlanta, GA

Organization: Policing Alternatives and Diversion Initiative

Contact: info@atlantapad.org

The Policing Alternatives & Diversion Initiative works to reduce arrest and incarceration of people experiencing extreme poverty, problematic substance use, or mental health concerns, and increase the accessibility of supportive services in Atlanta and Fulton County.
Founded in 2017, the Policing Alternatives & Diversion Initiative (PAD) provides immediate alternatives to arrest for certain circumstances. Through PAD, Atlanta Police Department and Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) police officers are able to divert individuals detained for law violations related to mental health, substance use, and extreme poverty. PAD also accepts community referrals through the City of Atlanta 311 non-emergency city services line for quality of life concerns.

“The expansion of Atlanta’s 311 services — funded in large part through the city budget — allows callers to request PAD for concerns related to basic needs, public health, substance use and mental health. These requests are then passed along to a PAD harm reduction team to offer immediate support to those referred, as well as connections to housing and other resources. Callers use 311 to seek assistance for people yelling outside of businesses, relieving themselves in public, appearing disoriented or walking through traffic, along with other survival activities that otherwise often lead to police interactions and jail.”

According to their website: “PAD responds to non-emergency quality of life concerns related to mental health, substance use or extreme poverty. This includes:

  • Disturbances (such as someone yelling outside a business or blocking traffic)
  • Public indecency (such as someone naked or bathing in a public place)
  • Welfare (such as someone asking for food or help)
  • Mental health (such as someone who appears disoriented, erratic, or is talking to themselves)
  • Substance use (such as someone using drugs in public)
  • Basic needs (such as someone in need of shelter and sleeping outside)
  • Public health (such as someone getting food from a dumpster or using the bathroom in a public place)

After a 311 Community Referral is made, a two-person PAD Harm Reduction team will travel to the area and attempt to engage the referred individual. If they consent, we conduct an initial intake interview and begin working with them to identify their immediate needs. We offer transportation to emergency shelter if needed, as well as care navigation and connections to other services providers.

For those individuals who have open cases in the City of Atlanta or Fulton County, or substantial legal barriers due to former convictions, PAD may offer enrollment into PAD LEAD [Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion], which will allow for legal navigation with criminal legal system partners, and additional direct services and housing support. 

Depending on the nature of the request, a PAD Harm Reduction team will respond to requests within 30 minutes; some requests, particularly those in frequently reported locations, may be designated as outreach requests and be addressed by the team within 72 hours. PAD will consider the urgency of the situation, the location, and team availability to prioritize requests.”

Source: Opinion: We need to rethink mental health care — and the assumptions we have about what support means, Moki Macias, The Washington Post, May 6, 2021