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Mayor Justin Bibb announces plans to expand use of county's diversion center by Cleveland Police

The Cuyahoga County Diversion Center opened in May and has struggle to fill its 50 beds. [Cuyahoga County]
photo of diversion center

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb said yesterday that his city's police officers can bring people experiencing mental health or substance abuse crises directly to the Cuyahoga County Diversion Center, rather than awaiting approval from the city prosecutor.

Bibb announced the rule change after touring the facility on Cleveland’s East Side.

The center opened in May, with the goal of providing mental health and substance abuse treatment to people who otherwise would end up in county jail.

Occupancy, though, has been low since the facility opened in May. Between May and December, the facility took in only 186 people. It has 50 beds, though never more than ten were filled at any time. In an effort to increase use, the center in November started accepting clients who came in on their own or were referred by freinds or family, rather than just police officers. That was a big change. Initially, the diversion center was only for people diverted from jail, those who would otherwise be arrested for a low-level, non-violent crime.

Bibb’s new policy means officers can bring people directly to the center after being picked up for nonviolent, misdemeanor offenses. Police will first call the center’s hotline. The mayor also said a wider range of people who committ nonviolent misdemeanors will become eligible for diversion, with the exception of people accused of stalking, sex offenses, driving under the influence or domestic violence.

“Expanding these services will provide our officers with an alternative course of action and ensure that individuals experiencing a mental or physical health crisis receive the services and support they need,” said Bibb in a statement.

Cuyahoga County officials and the center’s supporters have pointed to Cleveland's policy requiring prosecutor approval as a cause for the slow start.

“I applaud the Mayor’s decision to change the city’s policy and improve Cleveland Police Department participation in the program,” said County Executive Armond Budish in a statement. “We expect the City of Cleveland to be the largest single user that will take advantage of this County resource.”

The Greater Cleveland Congregations organization was an early advocate for establishing a diversion center in the county and called for Mayor Frank Jackson's administration to remove the prosecutor approval requirement. In a statement, the GCC said it is hopeful the new mayor's decision leads to increased use of the center.

“We commend Mayor Bibb for keeping his promise of acting quickly on GCC’s ask,” said GCC Board President Rev. John Lentz. “We hope this announcement indicates the Mayor will make utilizing the Diversion Center a Cleveland Police Department priority that is reflected in a major increase in its use of the Center going forward.”

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.