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We recently spoke with Willie Sturdivant, Jr., a case manager at Washtenaw County Community Mental Health (WCCMH) who works with the county’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion and Deflection (LEADD) program.
Q. How did you come to work for WCCMH and the LEADD program?
After graduating from Eastern Michigan University with a bachelor's degree in social work, I started working for the Sheriff’s Office and was there for five and a half years. I was an outreach facilitator for peer-to-peer programs, working with people on felony probation—helping them find the resources they needed.
I transferred to WAshtenaw County Community Mental Health about four months ago. In my new role supporting criminal justice diversion through the LEADD program, I still work closely with the community engagement department at the Sheriff’s Office, and the deputies.
Q. What are the main goals of the LEADD program?
We’re trying to break the cycle of recidivism and racial disparities. We also want to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community–building trust. That means we work closely with LEADD deputies and potential LEADD clients, but we still keep the case management side separate and professional so that my clients trust me to help them.
Q. What do you do in your role?
When someone might be a good fit for LEADD, I’ll get a call to go out to a scene and talk to an officer and the potential client. LEADD is a voluntary program. If they agree to diversion instead of arrest, we’ll come to a resolution where they’ll leave with me instead of going to jail.
I try to get them where they need to go—it could be home, treatment, or just somewhere safe. We work with Home of New Vision, Dawn Farm, the shelter, and housing access—pretty much all of the organizations that provide important resources in Washtenaw County.
Q. What are some of the biggest issues facing our community right now related to your work?
Poverty and homelessness are big issues. Most of the clients that I work with are homeless, and sometimes addiction comes with that. But we try to reach people where they are and go from there.
Q. Where have you seen positive change from the work you do?
A big challenge [with my clients] is not having a social security card or birth certificate. So we help them go through that process—helping them get whatever ID they need, including their driver’s license. I help my clients find the resources they need. It helps them do the things that get them to a better place, like apply for housing or get a job.
Q. Are there any upcoming changes or things that you’re excited about?
I’m excited about changes to how people get referred [to the LEADD program]. People call me about LEADD. But currently, the only way people can get referred is through a deputy or another criminal justice partner, such as our public defender.
We’re now talking about opening that process up once we have greater case management capacity and resources. Then, the case managers, and even the community, could start referring folks. We would also like to open it up to the entire county [instead of just the pilot region of Ypsilanti Township].
Q. What should people know about the relationship between WCCMH and the Sheriff’s Office?
I think it's good for the community to see public safety and law enforcement working with people in mental health. All of the staff really care. They’re doing it because they love helping people. And they’re looking out for the best interests of their clients.
Want to learn more about Washtenaw County LEADD? Click here to watch a Facebook Live conversation about LEADD featuring participating county agencies and representatives.
And check out an additional LEADD story featuring LEADD Program Coordinator Hailey Richards.