MANATEE COUNTY (WFLA) – Faith leaders gathered in Manatee County on Wednesday, applauding District 12 State Attorney Ed Brodsky for the adult pre-arrest diversion program he helped roll out in Sarasota County a few months back.

The program gives first-time, non-violent offenders a chance to avoid tarnishing their record with an arrest.

“I have been optimistic about the program, I think it is a well-intended program. I think it does serve a vital need at helping someone that has never entered the criminal justice system before, who has no record, who has committed some minor offense. You know, let’s give them the opportunity to be successful and not be hampered with an arrest,” said Brodsky. “Obviously, they still have the accountability. This is simply an opportunity for law enforcement to identify those individuals early and help them avoid that arrest record so that they can be successful.”

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office is using the program, but it hasn’t yet rolled out in other parts of District 12. Faith leaders want to see that change and are calling on Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells to implement the diversion program by the end of the year.

“We feel like that is an injustice. We need second chances because everybody is not a criminal, everybody is not a violent offender. Some people are just going through hard times and need another chance,” said Bradenton Pastor Eric Reaves.

Reaves explained that many arrests are related to suspended drivers licenses. He shared a situation involving a father who lost part of his income during the pandemic, wasn’t able to pay child support for his four children, and ended up receiving a notice that his license had been suspended.

“Now he is still driving. He needs to drive for his job and if he gets pulled over for whatever case, he can be arrested and it just spirals down and down and down from there,” said Reaves.

Sheriff Rick Wells told WFLA he sees value in the program, but is still evaluating to see if it is something his agency will implement down the road. He explained the vast majority of people his deputies come into contact with are not first-time offenders and do have a criminal history.

“We are vested in the juvenile civil citation program. We believe that juveniles – they are young, they make mistakes at times and we believe that is a valid program for them because we want to keep a record off of their background. We want to help them out, but adults understand the consequences and sometimes if they make bad decisions, that is on them,” said Sheriff Wells. “I don’t mind helping someone, a first-time offender for a very minor infraction. There is some value, but I believe that those numbers will be extremely low.”