Police attitudes towards pre-booking diversion in Baltimore, Maryland

Saba Rouhani, Rajani Gudlavalleti, Daniel Atzmon, Ju Nyeong Park, Steven P. Olson, Susan G. Sherman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: In the context of high rates of drug-related incarceration that disproportionately affect urban communities of colour, advocates for drug policy criminal justice reform have called for alternatives to mass incarceration. The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program redirects low-level drug offenders to health and social services rather than immediately into the criminal justice system. In advance of piloting LEAD in Baltimore City, we assessed police perceptions towards harm reduction and specifically pre-booking diversion in effort to inform training and implementation activities in Baltimore City and elsewhere. Methods: We administered a survey to Baltimore City Police Officers (N = 83) in the planned implementation district using two scales: the first measured police attitudes toward people who use drugs (PWUD), current drug policies and public health measures, and the second measured police perceptions of pre-booking diversion programs. We calculated Cronbach's alpha (α) to assess internal consistency of both scales. Bivariate χ 2 tests and multivariate logistic regression examined correlates of scale items stratified by new and seasoned officers. Results: Seasoned officers were significantly less likely to believe that drug treatment is easily available (51% vs. 81%, p = 0.005). The belief that current policies are effective and that PWUD should be arrested for small drug purchases decreased significantly per year on the force (aOR: 0.92; 95%CI 0.85,0.99; aOR: 0.94, 95% CI 0.88, 0.99, respectively), as did concerns about needle-stick injuries (aOR: 0.85, 95% CI 0.74, 0.98). Seasoned officers were significantly more comfortable referring PWUD to social services (100% vs. 83%, p = 0.006), and agree that such pre-booking diversion could be effective in improving public safety within (72% vs. 43%; p = 0.009) and beyond the intervention area (56% vs. 33%, p = 0.04). Conclusions: The study indicates the value of intervening early and consistently throughout police career trajectories and engaging seasoned officers as allies to promote recognition and support of public health and harm reduction strategies within ongoing police reform efforts. LEAD provides important and broad opportunities for training police to enhance their understanding the intersection of public safety and public health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)78-85
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
StatePublished - Mar 2019


  • Harm reduction
  • Incarceration
  • Law enforcement
  • People who use drugs
  • Pre-booking diversion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Policy


Dive into the research topics of 'Police attitudes towards pre-booking diversion in Baltimore, Maryland'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this