U-Lead curbs student arrests for minor drug and alcohol offenses

College can be host to many “firsts” – first time away from home, first dorm, first roommate, first frat party and, often, first mistakes.

Sometimes the temptation of drugs, alcohol and fake I.D.s, leaves students facing consequences they regret. So the University of Miami Police Department created a pre-arrest diversion and yearlong education program, U-Lead, with the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office.

U-Lead, which stands for University Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, was created in 2013 to curb student arrests for first-time alcohol, marijuana and paraphernalia possession and false ID cases.

Ed Griffith, spokesman for Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, said the driving force behind the creation of the program was the willingness of UMPD and the state to work together.

UMPD offers the program to offending students who do not have criminal records and

have specific violations: up to 20 grams of marijuana, alcohol possession by a minor or possession of a fake driver’s license. U-Lead does not apply to prescription medications or hard drugs.

Once the offender volunteers for the program, the student must pay a $200 administrative fee to the university, which goes toward program costs.

The student must also donate another $200 to a victim’s fund and complete a four-hour class with the State Attorney’s Office. Students are required to complete 25 hours of community service and attend a chaperoned trip to a Miami-Dade County jail.

UMPD Detective Sgt. Roberto Navarro said the U-Lead program provides students a second chance to advance in life without any arrest record. There’s a police report, which is public record, but there’s no arrest associated with the incident.

“In most employment applications they ask you if you’ve ever been arrested. The truthful answer, under a U-Lead situation, is no,” Navarro said.

Although no arrest record is generated, incidents are reported to the Dean of Students Office. The U-Lead program is separate from any administrative action taken by the university, which can include repercussions such as parental notification, restriction of privileges and an alcohol or drug-related referral.

If a student enrolled in the program is caught with drugs, he or she is charged with both the most recent offense and the initial offense that resulted in entry into the program.

Students are encouraged to go to the counseling center for additional help. Navarro said participating in sessions at UM’s counseling center counts for two hours of community service. UMPD is willing to work with students on deadline extensions, if necessary.

The goal, Navarro said, is to get to the root of the problem without dire consequences.

“It’s made to give a person who has no criminal history in that area an opportunity to think things out and have some consequences, but not hard enough to where they’re going to follow you around your entire life every time that you apply for a job,” Navarro said.