Making Us Proud: Gloucester Shows The Country How Police Should Operate

It’s no big secret that our beautiful seaside city has a wee bit of a heroin problem.

On my street alone, there have been two fatal overdoses in the last calendar year. A few years back when I rented a retail business space, I went to replace a drop-ceiling tile, and a syringe fell out and skittered across the floor. It’s depressing – occasionally we use gallows humor here at your The Clam in order to not scream about it all or overload ourselves with how deep, and tragic, and just so fucking unrelenting it is. Dealing with junkie neighbors and in some cases family, and the problems that addiction can bring can be draining. Dealing with junkie neighbors at home AND at work is even more draining. Of course, that’s absolutely nothing compared to what families have to go through.

Just a normal beach day. (Photo courtesy of Because Gloucester/Shellee Viator)

Just a normal beach day. (Photo courtesy of Because Gloucester/Shellee Viator)

Our local police force has dealt with opiate dependency, at least from everything I’ve seen and heard firsthand, with an amazing amount of patience, grace, and understanding. I cannot imagine that Gloucester is an easy city to police, especially when it comes to the problems and crimes that addiction leads to. Our country has seen an unacceptable amount of horrific news stories involving police forces acting in unconscionable ways – but here in Gloucester, we’ve been absolutely blessed with a group of caring individuals who still treat people like people. If every police department across the country was the Gloucester Police, we’d be a much better country. I won’t say they’re perfect, but they’re pretty freakin’ awesome overall.

And so, after Saturday’s city-wide opiate summit, the Gloucester Police Facebook page posted the following statement from chief Campanello:

On Saturday, May 2, the City held a forum regarding the opiate crisis, and on how Gloucester has many resources for help. We are poised to make revolutionary changes in the way we treat this DISEASE. Your Police Department vowed to take the following measures to assist, beginning June 1, 2015:

– 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. Instead we will walk them through the system toward detox and recovery. We will assign them an “angel” who will be their guide through the process. Not in hours or days, but on the spot. Addison Gilbert and Lahey Clinic have committed to helping fast track people that walk into the police department so that they can be assessed quickly and the proper care can be administered quickly.

– Nasal Narcan has just been made available at local pharmacies without a prescription. The police department has entered into an agreement with Conleys and is working on one with CVS that will allow anyone access to the drug at little to no cost regardless of their insurance. The police department will pay the cost of nasal narcan for those without insurance. We will pay for it with money seized from drug dealers during investigations. We will save lives with the money from the pockets of those who would take them. We recognize that nasal narcan is not the answer, but it is saving lives and no one in this City will be denied a life saving drug for this disease just because of a lack of insurance. Conleys has also agreed to assist with insurance requests from those who do not have any.

– I will personally travel to Washington DC, with the support of Mayor Theken, the City Council, Sen. Bruce Tarr, and Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, on May 12 and 13. There I will meet with Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Congressman Seth Moulton. I will bring what Gloucester is accomplishing and challenge them to change, at the federal level, how we receive aid, support and assistance. I will bring the idea of how far Gloucester is willing to go to fight this disease and will ask them to hold federal agencies, insurance companies and big business accountable for building a support system that can eradicate opiate addiction and provide long term, sustainable support to reduce recidivism.

I am asking for your help. Like this post, send it to everyone you can think of and ask them to do the same. Speak your comments. Create strength in numbers. I will bring it with me to show how many voters are concerned about this issue. Lives are literally at stake. I have been on both sides of this issue, having spent 7 years as a plainclothes narcotics detective. I have arrested or charged many addicts and dealers. I’ve never arrested a tobacco addict, nor have I ever seen one turned down for help when they develop lung cancer, whether or not they have insurance. The reasons for the difference in care between a tobacco addict and an opiate addict is stigma and money. Petty reasons to lose a life.

Please help us make permanent change here in Gloucester.

Thank you,
Chief Campanello

Woah. This is a huge step forward for Gloucester – towards compassionate care for people society tend to give up on, or judge harshly having not been in their shoes. Chief Campanello just came out and said “You have a disease, your life matters. It matters enough for us to drop everything and help you. It matters enough that we’re getting anyone Narcan so we can save more lives.”It’s the best outcome for everyone involved to handle things this way instead of turning a blind eye, or arresting people only for the crime of being caught up in a shitty addiction. I’m sure there will be at least one bag of literal human garbage who will write us a dipshit comment about “THOSE people/handouts/free rides”, but that’s why we screen comments. And this novel approach resonated pretty far – as of last count, it had something like 15.5k shares (for a page with 2k likes). People from all around the country have left thousands of comments wishing their local police department would do the same. Maybe they will. Maybe this is the start.

Everyone involved in Saturday’s meeting should be proud of working on this collaboration. We’re proud of you all for putting Gloucester in the spotlight for being Gloucester – the city that bands together and helps each other out like no other place I’ve ever been.



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  1. Whoa! That is some compassionate and forward thinking from an old school kind of town. Color me impressed!

    Gloucester is shining a beacon. I hope the rest of the world takes note.

  2. Bravo – I will share this both via e-mail and Facebook.

  3. Garbage here, with a point of view not taken.
    I never broke into a neighbors’ house to support my lifestyle. Never stood twitchily outside a pawn broker with a handful of someone else’s garndmothers’ jewelry. When my apartment was ransacked, the door literally battered in and taken off the hinges, and the nicest camera I ever owned along with all of the things that made it work went for a walk, I lost the ability to sympathize. I worked hard for a year to earn that possession, and I did not steal and sell others’ things to get it. It maybe gave a few hours of oblivion to the person who sold it for a couple hits. The instance of such thefts being solved and the items returned is so exceedingly rare it almost always makes the news when it happens. But you might have noticed that no matter how many free ambulance/hearse rides the city gives out that these never make the police notes.
    This garbage has a clear conscience.

    • …this opinion aired out, I also have to say I am too impressed by the new face of the GPD in recent days. Their level of community engagement has gone up visibly and it really helps that their not just driving around with their windows darkened or standing disinterestedly at a traffic detail staring at a smartphone. Saw two very professional officers approach a group of older teens who were nearby the playground full of younger kids at St Ann’s yesterday. Dismounting and engaging, just to make sure all was safe. That IS the involvement we all want and I DO applaud it very much. But had they been holding smack within 1000 yards of the nearby school, I would also want those same officers to quickly remove them and charge them. It’s as you say a tightrope, but they get paid well to walk it.

      • Andrew Kercher

        Bravo, Alexander. Excellent, respectfully written and with self-dignity. Unlike the use of the F-word, et c. by the author in the article. This is how to treat others: with the same respect we have for ourselves. I was attacked by a gang of cowardly thugs in 2008 and have since learned the most valuable thing we have built into us is our body’s system of self-preservation. Ready for the next one. Glad the police are on the side of those who realize this, who care enough about themselves to get help with their disease before they reap the deadly consequences. Bravo, indeed.

    • A drowning man will grab on to anything to try to stay afloat. He will do unimaginable things to not sink beneath the surface. If I had a life ring, he’d try to take it away from me. I suppose you’d do the same. I may be wrong.

      Addiction works the same way.

      • Both yourself and the ‘drowning man’ are standing in three feet of water with the beach just steps away. Nothing life threatening is going on, but rather than putting their feet on the bottom they are more inclined to steal your life ring. And when the tide goes out they’re just a theif holding a useless life ring on the sand while you go to work to earn a new one.
        What a meanie I am, wanting the things I earn.

        • Martin Del Vecchio

          “Nothing life threatening is going on”

          But that’s exactly what is going on; people are losing their lives to heroin:

          Please step aside and let our community deal with our problem in a new way. The old way doesn’t work, and is very expensive. The new way just might work.

          • Yep, horrible and true, and nothing to do with people who lead straight lives. To addicts, our personal losses and shattered sense of security are somehow valueless, except insofar as they can be sold to buy drugs.
            Here’s a fun fact for you Martin: PEOPLE MAKE CHOICES AND ARE ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS.
            Some get that.
            But you can’t teach civics to everyone.

          • Martin Del Vecchio

            “and nothing to do with people who lead straight lives.”

            Except, of course, that they do, and that is exactly what you are complaining about. Addiction leads to crime. Throwing addicts in jail for their crimes leaves their addiction untreated, and when they get out, they continue down that path.

            Treating addiction leads to less crime.

            So you’re against treating addiction, and against reducing crime?

    • Martin Del Vecchio

      Your approach has had 40 years and infinite billions of dollars to address the problem. Your approach has been an utter failure.

      It is time for a new approach, and I am delighted that our police department is doing this.

    • So you would prefer the police to throw these people in jail and essentially continue the cycle, rather than get them help?

      • Martin Del Vecchio

        Yes, I think that’s what he wants.

        He’s making a common conflationary mistake: arguing against crime when we are arguing in favor of treatment, and believing that we are on opposite sides of the same discussion.

        The two are not mutually exclusive. We are talking about the public health crisis that our city is facing, and how that crisis is best addressed.

        He is speaking only about the crime that is a side-effect of the public health crisis. While ignoring the fact that treating the public health issue also eliminates the crime.

        • Right here, Martin.
          For years I drove shuttle to a large array of Methadone clinics, and the times that my passengers schemed to go to more than one, or to make unscheduled stops to sell or score were many. And to a man they all claimed what they had was a ‘disability’. Not one ever spoke of simply stopping, or finding work. But again, I’m just a meanie for expecting them to suffer the same consequences as criminals who happen not to be addicts.

      • Is there heroin in jail? I’ve never done anything to promote their use of heroin, and I’ve never heard anyone say I’m not entitled to justice when I am burglarized…except a few irate addicts.

        • Is there heroin in jail? Do squirrels like nuts? I’m sorry you lost some possessions but… what is worse losing some things or losing a life? Who is to say that you got robbed by heroin addicts? Were they arrested? There are plenty of scumbags out there that don’t do drugs that will rob the shit out of you.I stole a candy bar from a store in 4th grade and I wasn’t even on heroin. It affects many many lives. I’m happy our chief is focusing on the overall problem.

          • Reading is fun! I’ve posted quite a lot of info, none of which said I was against treatment. All I want is accountability and all of you would-be saviors of the afflicted keep saying their crimes should be excused “because heroin”.
            Fuck that.

          • Martin Del Vecchio

            “all of you would-be saviors of the afflicted keep saying their crimes should be excused “because heroin”.”

            No one has said that, including the police chief.

          • Oh. I misread: 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. Sorry. It means something else. Martin says so.

  4. A request:

    Can we pleeze stop referring to human beings as junkies, garbage and the like? These people are our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, neighbors, classmates, coworkers, addicted sufferers, patients, and they are not less than humans with inherent worth and dignity.

    We also need to find a much better alternative for people who are abstaining from addictive substances. Getting or remaining “clean” implies that people who have substances on-board are dirty, filthy and again are less deserving of dignity and respect as humans.

    A quick response to Alexander Thompson’s comment:

    Anyone’s health and living habits are less than perfect. There are many factors which come into play when people use tobacco, recreational drugs, alcohol, food (and other substances which can be used) in harmful ways.

    What the GPD is doing is removing barriers to getting timely and effective treatment so that people who are suffering are able to choose, build and maintain healthy habits and behaviors – exactly the things that will concomitantly remove incentives to acquire substances by harmful means. Nowhere did I read that the GPD is going to excuse thefts and criminal activity. However, that might be a good followup topic to address with a The Clam guest post by the chief (hint, hint, fine and most excellent Clammeditors).

    • Thank you for this. I was going to comment when this was posted the other day, but thought maybe I was being overly sensitive. As a former addict, the word “junkie” brings back some really terrible feelings, and I find it out of place in an otherwise compassionate post. I don’t expect the Clam, which I love and read every day, to be PC…but this one hit a little too close to home.

      I am so proud of our city for doing this, and hope it will help some people. I was fortunate to have a supportive family who helped me find my way out of the hole (even after stealing from them and lying to them – things I still feel shameful for 15+ years later). Some of my friends who were not so lucky to have that support system could have benefited from this program. Unfortunately, many of them did not live to see it put into practice.

      Helping addicts overcome their addiction is good for everyone. I hope that some of the naysayers will come around.

      • Thanks for your reply, but I’m afraid we’re going to keep using the term “junkie,” though I understand the pejorative nature of the term. It’s in common usage beyond opiate addiction (“I’m a chunky monkey junkie”), has been used by heroin addicts to describe themselves (Burroughs) and I think it represents a point of difference between addicts who are trying to deal with their issues and someone who is so overwhelmed they will pretty much do anything to get their fix. Our biggest challenge with this initiative is going to be finding the compassion necessary to overcome this disease among our friends and neighbors while dealing with the bullshit “junkies” of all types bring to the table as part of their affliction. And I think it extends well beyond just drugs, look how many discarded state-issued lottery tickets there are everywhere, for example. It’s a huge issue and there is going to be a lot of pain getting past our current mode of operation. However, I’m going to entrench here and say that “addicts” don’t steal my bike and sell it to the scrap dude (interesting note: scrap used to be the way morphine addicts returning from WW I would pay for their fix- by selling ‘junk’). Junkies do that. An ‘addict’ includes my current neighbor who hasn’t touched a drug in 25 years. A junkie is caught up in the throws of their addiction. We need that clarifier, I think. Does that make sense, or am I missing something (and this is a snark-free question).

        • I understand where you guys are coming from, and I know there are some people who refer to themselves as junkies, but there are also folks who do not see themselves that way who sometimes find themselves labeled as such. Labels are tricky. I shed the “addict” label when I stopped using…others, like your neighbor, may keep it for their entire lifetime as a means of continuing to address and deal with the disease. I guess it comes down to personal preference. I’ll try not to take it too personally. 🙂

  5. I’m a therapist who’s been working in Gloucester for the past 6 years. I’ve been in practice for more than 15 years, specializing in addiction/recovery treatment. Today I’ve been sharing this post with former co-workers in other towns and states. Every one of them is amazed and incredibly jealous that I get to work in a city that not only has these kinds of progressive policies, but where the police have such a well-informed and compassionate attitude toward the disease of addiction. In the other cities where I’ve worked, the cops are typically really ignorant about addiction, and pretty awful towards addicts, as well as towards the agencies and individuals providing care to addicts. One friend just texted to tell me that while reading the Chief’s statement, she teared up over how wonderful it was, but also in sadness and frustration over how different things are in the town where she works. I’m so thankful to the leaders in our city for being open to approaching this difficult issue in such a new way.

  6. Shellee Viator

    Thanks for using my photo, btw, but I can say as a non-addict who was with an addict for some time, it’s really surreal when you actually see it and deal with it firsthand. I know it sounds weird, but I actually feel blessed being able to learn more about the disease and the recovery personally and intimately and I think this is so amazing what our little island is doing for their own. Kudos!

  7. I applaud Gloucester, its police chief and all who work with him on this enlightened approach to the disease of addiction. I was impressed particularly by his comment: “I’ve never arrested a tobacco addict, nor have I ever seen one turned down for help when they develop lung cancer, whether or not they have insurance. The reasons for the difference in care between a tobacco addict and an opiate addict is stigma and money. Petty reasons to lose a life.” That about sums it up. Nicotine may be slightly more addictive than heroin. Both are very hard to kick or cure. Treating them both as a health issue is the proper approach.

  8. I’m a retired police officer from a large department in Maryland. I worked covert assignments for about 23 of my 26 years. I applaud your approach. I now am finishing my degree and I am a substance abuse counselor (trainee status). We have got to do something different than we have always done. If I can help in any way let me know.

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