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This story is mirrored from ‘The Free Thought Project’ website about Leonard Campanello – not your average police officer, which makes him even more of an atypical police chief. While police departments across the United States double down on the war on drugs with more military gear and violence, Campanello is doing it right.
While cops continue busting down doors of suspected drug users, and killing their dogs, or killing them, Campanello is reaching out his hand. The Gloucester Police Department serves the small town of 30,000 people, and when they experienced their fourth heroin death in three months, Campanello realized that police violence was not the way to deal with the problem.
“The war on drugs is over,” Campanello said in an interview. “And we lost. There is no way we can arrest our way out of this. We’ve been trying that for 50 years. We’ve been fighting it for 50 years, and the only thing that has happened is heroin has become cheaper and more people are dying.”
The fact that a police chief is unafraid to speak such truth to power is astonishing. Despite the war on drugs being an abject failure and an immoral stain on humanity, police departments across the country continue to support it. Those who speak out against it are shunned by the same Police Unions who lobby congress for stricter drug laws.
However, Campanello says, no more.
In March of this year, after receiving news of yet another heroin overdose, Campanello took to Facebook and began a revolution.
“If you are a user of opiates or heroin, let us help you. We know you do not want this addiction. We have resources here in the City that can and will make a difference in your life. Do not become a statistic,” wrote Campanello.
Campanello then got in touch with the local mayor and began the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (P.A.A.R.I.) which would help drug addicts instead of lock them in cages.
After the kinks were ironed out, Campanello took to Facebook again in May.
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.
The post went viral, and was shared over 30,000 times.
Since then, the Gloucester department has helped 109 addicts; 1 in 6 who have driven from out of state for the program.
The idea of treating an addict with compassion instead of violence is a revolutionary notion in this country. However, in other countries, such as Portugal, its effects have been realized for more than a decade. In 2001, the Portugeuse government decriminalized all drugs.
News of Campanello’s initiative is spreading, and three other cities in Massachusetts will soon launch similar programs, as well as two cities in Illinois. While Campanello’s initiative not perfect, it is radically different than anything we’ve seen thus far. It will undoubtedly lead to decriminilization being pushed into the mainstream.
In a Facebook post HERE, Officer about Leonard Campanello pleads for help:
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
Vancouver, BC, Canada, has taken a similar stance since opening the doors of INSITE in 2003. Insite operates on a harm-reduction model, which means it strives to decrease the adverse health, social and economic consequences of drug use without requiring abstinence from drug use or locking addicts up in prisons. Insite is North America’s first legal supervised injection site. Vancouver Coastal Health operates, and provides all the funding, senior administrative and health care workers for the facility. Vancouver Coastal Health gets the bulk of our funding from the BC Ministry of Health Services. PHS Community Services Society provides administrative and peer support services at Insite through contract with Vancouver Coastal Health. Many addicts who visit INSITE ask for help with treatment… the addicts are treated like human beings and cared for by compassionate staff and qualified nurses. It’s a win, win for the entire city.
Vancouver Police Officers have taken to the streets to help addicts, not arrest and jail them. The National Film Board of Canada worked with Vancouver Police Officers to produce a documentary film, “Through a Blue Lens” – shot in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. This award-winning documentary film caught the eyes of audiences, film makers and critics worldwide for its unusual and sensitive depiction of life on the street.
“Through A Blue Lens” documents a year of life and death on the street and behind tenement walls. The striking thing about the film is not the horror of drug abuse but the story of how the interaction between the police and the drug addicts, with the camera as a catalyst, actually changed the people involved. The cops became more sympathetic to the people on the street and the drug addicts, in having friendship extended to them by the police and film makers, developed self-esteem and, in some cases, actually cleaned up.
This imbedded video is a must watch – witnessing how Police Officers take addicts for meals, bring them presents, and visit them in hospitals. This is indeed, a very moving and realistic documentary of life on the street, and the full circle of helping instead of arresting and jailing addicts.