Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello to Be Honored at White House

He is among this years 'Champions of Change' for his radical fight against the heroin crisis.

Leonard Campanello Gloucester police

Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello. / Photograph by Jesse Burke for “Police Chief Leonard Campanello’s New Fight Against the Heroin Crisis

Last year Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello had had enough. Fatal opiate overdoses were piling up across the state and the chief’s small department was seeing the epidemic hit home almost every day. Rather than continue applying traditional policing tactics to the problem, Campanello decided to take a radical approach and do whatever he could to get those sick with addiction the medical care they needed.

Now the White House is honoring Campanello as one of its “Champions of Change” for launching the Gloucester ANGEL Program, an initiative that allows injection drug users to turn in their narcotics and gear to the Gloucester Police and enter medical treatment.

Launched in 2015, the program has now helped put more than 400 people on the long, daunting road to recovery, according to the Gloucester Times.

Campanello and his efforts were detailed at length in this magazine last fall. Throughout the course of reporting, Campanello did not mince words or pull punches. He called out the pharmaceutical industry for its reckless marketing of pain pills, he blasted the insurance industry for its “apathy and whininess,” and he spoke candidly about his detractors:

Part of what made Campanello’s directive so revolutionary was that he claimed powers that the police, technically, do not have. His audacity did not go unchallenged. The Essex County district attorney, Jonathan Blodgett, wrote Campanello a letter pointing out that while his mission was laudable, police chiefs don’t have the legal authority to make “an explicit promise not to charge a person who unlawfully possess drugs.” The chief all but laughed at the missive, and ignored it. Some critics have asked what Campanello would do if someone came into his station house with 4 kilos of heroin and requested treatment—would he really not arrest them? I posed this hypothetical to him one afternoon. “What the fuck do I care?” Campanello fired back. “We’ll take the 4 kilos, get that off the street, and get the guy into treatment.”

It’s tough to grasp the profound impact Campanello’s program has had on the lives of hundreds of drug users and their families and friends. And just as important is the fact that he has inspired similar initiatives across the country and forced a national conversation about the role of police in the war on drugs.

It’s good to see the White House is listening.