By Pam Surano

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A new program is about to get off the ground in one of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods.

Police will soon have more options when it comes to those committing low-level, nonviolent offenses. The city says a new diversion program isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to the death of George Floyd, but the tragedy was a catalyst for meaningful change.

This pilot program will begin on the North Side with the goal of helping to replace arrests and jail time.

“And they asked her why were you stealing pampers and milk for your child? It’s because she didn’t have the resources to do it,” said Jeffrey Williams, the director of the youth diversion program at Foundation of HOPE.

Williams hears stories of desperation while at Foundation of HOPE on the North Side. Soon his group will assist adults by helping police help them.

“When they do encounter someone that has unmet needs, rather than citations and arrests, they have other tools in their tool belts to try and address those needs,” said Laura Drogowski, the critical communities manager for the mayor’s office.

The city has received funding for a public health-focused, pre-arrest program for those committing low-level crimes stemming from mental health, homelessness, addiction and poverty.

“The whole goal is to really start to identify the unmet needs that people have,” said Drogowski.

Needs like an ID, housing, a driver’s license or job. And that means rather than arrests, sometimes referrals are made. The city says data shows, many times, arrests don’t make things better.

“And we know getting people connected with services they want to be connected with can go along way towards helping with these things,” said JoEllen Marsh, the LEAD program director.

Not all arrests will be avoided and not all people will be the right fit. But the city, police and social services say for those who are, it may offer a chance to break a cycle of incarceration and bring new life to those needing it.

The funds are from Allegheny County’s Health Department, and there are plans to expand the diversion program throughout the city and county.