For two years, the Gloucester Police Department has sat on the helm of an encouraging cultural evolution. Racked with unmanageable opioid overdoses, the department migrated away from arrest-centric policing. Rather, they piloted an initiative–the Angel Program– funneling addicts to treatment, not prison. Today, Gloucester boasts hundreds of users helped as dozens of departments hop on board. It hasn’t come easy though.
Gloucester’s “Angel Program” was considered a radical shift in policing when first launched in 2015. Inside 10 weeks, however, it helped 100 addicts local to the city. This surprised some officials, who were skeptical of the programs dependence on consent.
Essentially, users must voluntarily come to the station, with or without drugs. They’re then paired with an “Angel” volunteer who guides them through rehab. The program, despite sparing such individuals from charges, doesn’t protect detainee’s off the street.
Although the program has grown to 253 departments nationwide, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Gloucester. There was a period where other jurisdictions felt Gloucester was overstepping it’s bounds. Some questioned whether all the addicts admitted in it’s program were actually from the area. Recent months, however, have wrought a lesser influx of patients into the program. Though the exact reason is unclear, officials have continued evolving the programs procedures and protocols.
Furthermore, its founding police chief–Leonard Campanello–was removed by the city mayor in October 2016. According to reports, Campanello was being probed regarding his relationships with two woman who allegedly feared for their safety. Through all the hazy details, like officials stating the allegations don’t involve Camanello’s profession, what’s apparent is missing evidence.
Specifically, 653 text messages from a city-owned phone which were reputedly deleted by Campanello. Investigators then state he lied regarding the phone’s origin, and other details. For this, the mayor removed Campanello while offering him a chance to essentially retire.
In spite of all this, Campanello continues keeping up with the program he and others initiated. According to Gloucester Times, the former chief maintains contact with some users who went through the program. Almost routinely, stories of redeeming treatment and understanding resounds from Angel Program conscripts.
Campanello has often highlighted the stigma around addiction as a major uphill battle. Part of what fuels the staggering numbers of overdoses is the shame, and dogma user’s face. Many are disowned by friends, family, and are generally looked down upon by society. When initiating the program, Gloucester was challenged with both this, and the wounded relationship between the public and police. Making the message clear that users had nothing to be ashamed of, and that help was available, was key.
The Angel Program, despite it’s challenges, represents an intriguing evolution in law enforcement. It confronts far more than overdoses, which was it’s original mandate. Through the program, decades-long damage between police and communities begin to heal.
Being on the front lines of the issue, officers are well aware of how many users are essentially in hiding. They’ve spoken with them and, despite incarcerating many, have a clearer understanding of the issue than some. Highlighting things like addiction shaming, and stimga carries more weight when expressed from these officers. Thus, the Angel Program serves a multitude of purposes in combating the opioid crisis. The question is whether such initiatives are spreading fast enough to cover the tens of thousands of departments, and overdoses?
This article was first published on Pontiac Tribune by the same author.