Gloucester Chief of Police Ends the Drug War

It isn’t very often that I take to this blog to praise the police. Well, when a cop does something that shows that he really does want to “protect and serve,” then I’m gonna give it up to the guy.

Gloucester, Massachusetts said “fuck this shit” to the drug war. Police Chief Leonard Campanello declared that the Gloucester Police would no longer arrest addicts who seek treatment. (source)

At a citywide forum Saturday, Campanello announced major changes in how police in this small Essex County city will handle the opioid and drug epidemic gripping Massachusetts and the rest of the country.

“We are poised to make revolutionary changes in the way we treat this disease,” he told residents at the forum.

Any addict who walks into the Gloucester Police Department with drugs and the remainder of their drug equipment – needles, pipes or other paraphernalia – and asks for help will not be criminally charged, Campanello said. Instead, they will be steered into a treatment program to help them detox and recover.

“We will assign them an ‘angel’ who will be their guide through the process,” Campanello said. “Not in hours or days, but on the spot.”

Ok, it isn’t complete legalization, but that’s beyond his power anyhow. But, to understand the significance of his actions, we must understand the drug war in simple terms.

Thomas Jefferson said, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.” That “natural progress” went into overdrive when Richard Nixon declared his idiotic “War on Drugs.”

But, in reality, it is not a “War on Drugs.” It is a war on our own people. This war was waged on all of us, even those who have never so much as smoked a joint – because we all live in “occupied America,” where this War claimed constitutional and physical casualties, all for nothing.

The War on drugs cost us the Fourth Amendment, our right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The judiciary, stockpiled with out of touch authoritarians, decided that a little rollback wasn’t such a bad thing – we were at war. The Fifth Amendment’s right against self incrimination and the Sixth Amendment’s right to a fair trial? But those let these druggies off the hook too much! Roll them back!

Liberty kept yielding. Logic took a back seat and police forces delighted in their new powers and toys. Our police forces turned into an occupying army. No knock raids, flash grenades in people’s living rooms, asset forfeiture laws that don’t even require a conviction, profiling, the list goes on.

And as the government took away our rights, a lot of us cheered. This didn’t hurt people with access to power. This was a “poor neighborhood problem.” The occupying army clamped down, incarceration rates skyrocketed. Schools and social programs felt the budget knife, but cops got tanks, crowd control weapons, wiretapping gear.

Meanwhile, the negative side of drugs didn’t get better. In fact, the disease of addiction got worse. With marijuana so easy to detect, and so much harder to smuggle, the market pushed back toward heroin, methamphetamine, crack, and prescription drugs. Calling for drugs to be dealt with as a public health problem was political suicide. “To protect and serve” became an anachronistic joke.

Over-aggressive policing is on every front page today, but what did we think would happen? We threw out the Constitution, turned our police into an enemy army, and we’re surprised that they have no respect for us?

Meanwhile, millions suffer from addiction and the public health effects of addictive drugs. Treatment is not a priority in the War. The war is not just unethical, but counterproductive.

We now see a wave of legalization of marijuana sweeping across America – as we should. Possession or use of this harmless (and in some cases, miraculous) plant should never be the basis for any ruined lives, much less millions ruined in the name of the War.

But what about harder drugs? I believe that they should all be legal, as a matter of personal choice, but I can’t deny that certain drugs are dangerous. Is crystal meth really something that we want to allow, with no check or balance? Because addiction is real, and those so afflicted need our help. While the drug war is reprehensible, so is abandoning those in need. But where is the political will to change?

How do we convince any police chief to give up the lucrative forfeiture funds, and the fun new Rambo gear?

Today, we didn’t need to ask. Campanello saw what his community needed, and moved to protect and serve. This isn’t a complete lift of prohibition – but as Campanello stated, it is supposed to be a “revolutionary shift” in how law enforcement looks at drug policy. Campanello even took the position that forfeiture funds shouldn’t go to buying more spy and control toys, but should go to treatment.

Campanello even is willing to buy Narcan for overdosing addicts out of his budget. Narcan is a nasal spray that can save someone who overdoses. He is lobbying for it to be available over the counter.

“The police department will pay the cost of nasal Narcan for those without insurance,” he said. “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.”

Revolutionary indeed.

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Disclosure: I’m from Gloucester, but I don’t know Campanello.

9 Responses to Gloucester Chief of Police Ends the Drug War

  1. Jim says:

    This officer’s solution is probably the most “common sense” approach to the issue in the last 40 years. Unfortunately, his policy will be seen as a left-leaning policy to be embraced by the liberals in New England.

    Those in the South, Central and West will simply dismiss this as liberal pandering and that is the sad and unfortunate response to a compassionate solution to “the drug problem”

  2. RAFIV says:

    Mark,

    As you know Gloucester is ravaged and all over Essex County we are seeing unprecedented loss of life due to overdoses. My home town of Haverhill has had over 15 deaths as of March. The courts cannot keep up and the juvenile courts where I work are flooded with children drawn into the “protective arms” of the Commonwealth as their parents are arrested or rushed to the hospital. What the chief did makes sense. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Frankly, it was all he could do, and I pray Blodgett and others follow his lead, but I doubt it.

    • Those deaths are a direct result of the war on drugs. When I was a kid, it was pretty easy to find weed – and nobody really gave a shit if you smoked it. Even the teachers and administrators at the high school turned a blind eye if you smoked a joint once and a while out by the canal.

      But, the war on drugs’ easiest victim was the weed smokers. Hard to conceal, hard to smuggle, easy to test for. No fuckin wonder kids drifted to “easier to conceal” shit. Its a lower legal risk to do oxycontin or heroin, even if the life-risk is higher.

      Campanello is a goddamned hero.

  3. This seems like a remarkably sensible policy. I am far from convinced that all drugs should be legalized, but an addict that comes seeking help should be directed towards help rather than charged and making that official policy is a wise decision.

  4. One wee concern – the part about “We will pay for it with money seized from drug dealers during investigations.” It is not clear from Campanello’s statement that only money which was seized during an investigation and ultimately forfeited after conviction will be used.

    But it’s still a Very Good Thing.

  5. Angie NK says:

    Thank god someone knows where the real problem lies and is willing to do something to make a positive change. And what a neat coincidence that he happens to be from the same town you’re from!

  6. Jack B. says:

    That treating a public health matter as a public health matter instead of a criminal matter is considered “revolutionary” only underscores what a miserable failure the War on Drugs has been.

  7. The opiate problem is no longer confined to the “ghetto”, knowing no class boundaries when patients become addicted to pain killers via legitimate medical treatment, and when that supply gets cut off, their next option becomes “the street vendor”.

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