Atlanta program meant to respond to minor offenses growing

An initiative that offers an alternative to calling the police for minor offenses is growing. It's called Atlanta Pre-Arrest Diversion Services or Atlanta PAD.

The group helps keep vulnerable individuals out of the criminal justice system.

Karlise Newman and her team spend a lot of time talking to people and building relationships with them.

"Building a relationship and building a rapport is how we can get people to take small steps toward change," explained Newman, the harm reduction supervisor for Atlanta PAD.

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That's what her team did in Little Five Points on Friday. They gave out food and water to homeless people and talked to businesses about their organization.

"We are looking to answer community member's calls when it comes to homelessness, poverty, and mental illness," said Newman.

Atlanta PAD works with the Atlanta Police Department in Zone 5 and 6 to help people who need social services. Officers refer people to Atlanta PAD who may be better suited to get help instead of getting arrested. Since 2017, they have accepted more than 200 referrals from Atlanta Police.

"If the police officer feels as though that person can benefit from services other than going to jail, they will contact us," said Newman.

Atlanta PAD focuses on social support for low-level crimes like panhandling or soliciting. It started as a pilot program but is set to expand in the next six months citywide.

"The police are called for everything, so that is currently what they are doing," said Newman, "Our job is to work in partnership with APD. We're not there to do their job."

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Atlanta PAD is in the planning stages of accepting referrals through the city's 311 line. They are asking community members in Atlanta to fill out a survey about their expansion. You can find that survey here.