New Tactic: Rehab, Not Jail

Gloucester Police Chief Campanello
Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello

Ed. Note: We’ve published several stories on Gloucester, Massachusetts, Police Chief Leonard Campanello and his innovative program to steer drug addicts to rehab, as opposed to jail. This story appeared on the front page of the Jan. 25 edition of The New York Times. The program has been widely successful—hundreds of agencies across the United States are following Chief Campanello’s lead.

Here’s an excerpt from the Times story by reporter Katherine Q. Seelye:

CANTON, Ohio — Leonard Campanello, the police chief of Gloucester, Mass., took the microphone here in mid-December and opened with his usual warm-up line: I’m from Gloucester, he said in his heavy Boston accent. “That’s spelled ‘G-l-o-s-t-a-h.’”


A casually profane man with a philosophical bent, Chief Campanello, 48, first drew national attention last spring when he wrote on Facebook that the old war on drugs was lost and over. Convinced that addiction is a disease, not a crime or moral failing, he became the unusual law enforcement officer offering heroin users an alternative to prison.


“Any addict who walks into the police station with the remainder of their drug equipment (needles, etc.) or drugs and asks for help will NOT be charged,” he wrote. “Instead we will walk them through the system toward detox and recovery” and send them for treatment “on the spot.”


That post from a small-town police chief was shared more than 30,000 times and viewed by 2.4 million people. By June, his Police Department had put his promise into action in what became known as Gloucester’s Angel program.


Critics said that he did not have the authority to take the law into his own hands and forgo arrests. But other police departments, fed up with arresting addicts and getting nowhere, saw the Gloucester approach as a promising way to address the epidemic of heroin and prescription pain pills, which together killed 47,055 people in 2014 nationwide — more than died in car accidents, homicides or suicides.


Since the program began, 391 addicts have turned themselves in at the city’s brick police station. About 40 percent are from the Gloucester area; the rest come from all over the country. All have been placed in treatment.


Just as surprisingly, 56 police departments in 17 states have started programs modeled on or inspired by Gloucester’s, with 110 more preparing to do so.


In addition, 200 treatment centers across the country have signed on as partners. In six months, Gloucester, which steers people to treatment but does not itself provide it, has developed a nationwide network of centers willing to provide beds and take referrals by the police, regardless of whether the addict has insurance.


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