How the Gloucester, Massachusetts Police Are Showing That Addiction is Not a Crime

Meet Police Chief Leonard Campanello of the Angel Program.

cops-loveA small community on the North Shore of Massachusetts held an emergency forum last May to address a spike in local deaths directly related to overdoses involving heroin. The citizens in crisis asked the police for help and they listened.

Instead of more futile attempts to arrest their way out of the problem, the police in Gloucester, Massachusetts decided to try something different. A helping hand, one of compassion instead of judgment and punishment, was offered.

A new initiative, called the Angel Program, was developed in a collaborative effort by a community trying to save the lives of drug users. The revolutionary approach is as follows:

  1. Addicts who walk into the station and ask for help will be given detox and access to treatment without any legal action.
  2. Nasal naloxone will be put in the hands of addicts, families, and caregivers to prevent overdose death. If you cannot afford it, the department will foot the bill for a dose.
  3. If a drug user has a run-in with an officer on the streets or in the community, the officer may use discretion and refer him or her to the Angel Program.

The Angel Program has just been implemented and Chief Leonard Campanello has the details on what’s happening.

On June 1, the Angel Program began and already there has been some action. How many people have walked into the station and asked for help?

We’ve had four [seven since the interview took place] so far. I can’t really get into the specifics of it because of the HIPPA law. But four have gone through the program and received the treatment they were looking for.

You were a narcotics detective for seven years, arresting drug dealers and making busts. What, in your experience, has led to feeling compassion for drug users? Not everyone has a soft spot for us.

I think in law enforcement, in general, there’s always been compassion for the addict. The work I did at that time I’m very proud of and I’m very proud of the officers I worked with. It’s good work that needs to continue. Our position in Gloucester is that we can be part of the other side of the equation, the demand side and that’s where this initiative came from.

Has it been difficult to establish trust among drug addicts and others in the community?

We’re very lucky in Gloucester to have really good community relations with the public at large. So all we can really do is extend the hand of trust. Addicts are ready when they are ready and we just want to make sure that we’re there at that crucial moment when they decide it’s enough and they need to get help.

Data shows heroin addicts are prone to relapse post-treatment. Rarely does one go around suffice. What kind of supports are set-up for people leaving the hospital or treatment facility?

That’s something you’d have to discuss with the individual. Everybody is different and everybody needs a different level of care. Our job is not to judge. If you relapse and you want help again, come and see us and we’ll do the same thing or whatever we can. For us, it doesn’t matter how many times you relapse, we’re extending the hand, and we’re trying to make a difference in the conversation, a difference in the way we do things here at the Gloucester Police Department. We understand people aren’t perfect, we’re not in a position to judge. Read more “the fix”…


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